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Counties Manukau Health Radiology

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Barium Enema

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 substance that shows up on an X-ray.  Barium moves quickly through the gastrointestinal tract and is not easily 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 45 minutes.
 
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 and gas before the examination.  You will be sent special dietary instructions for the day before your examination, such as having clear fluids and then a specified prescriptive laxative must be taken. You should not eat or drink anything for 6 hours before your appointment.
 
During the procedure, you will lie on your side upon an X-ray table.  A well-lubricated tube is gently inserted into the rectum and barium and air is introduced into 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. This helps to achieve a good examination. X-rays will be taken during the examination and you will be required to hold your breath for each X-ray taken.
 
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.  Sometimes intravenous medication is given to help relax the bowel and reduce the discomfort from the procedure.
 
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This page was last updated at 11:00AM on September 10, 2019.