A barium enema is an X-ray procedure to examine the lower part of the gastro-intestinal tract (large bowel). Barium is a thick white chalky fluid that shows up on an X-ray. Barium moves quickly through the gastrointestinal tract and is not absorbed by the body. This procedure allows a clear picture of the outline of the bowel and shows up any abnormalities.
The test takes around 1 1/2 hours.
What to expect?
A barium enema requires special preparation and it is important to carry out the instructions you are given, otherwise the procedure may not be carried out or give good enough results. The bowel must be clean and clear of faeces before the examination. Dietary instructions need to be followed, such as having clear fluids, then a prescriptive laxative must be taken and lastly enemas to clear out any remaining faeces.
This examination is not a comfortable one; most people have a feeling of fullness of the bowel during the procedure, lower abdominal cramping and the urge to pass wind or a bowel motion.
During the procedure, you will lie on your side upon an X-ray table. A well-lubricated tube is then gently inserted into the rectum. Barium and air then fills the colon. Air helps to keep a good flow of barium around the colon. You will then be asked to move into a number of different positions, to ensure that the barium coats all the surfaces of the bowel, to get a good picture. X-rays will then be taken while you hold your breath and keep still.
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This page was last updated at 12:26PM on May 12, 2014. This information is reviewed and edited by Barium Enema.