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Barium Enema

A barium enema is an X-ray procedure to examine the lower part of the gastrointestinal 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. Barium enemas are rarely done these days because they have been replaced by another x-ray exam, called a CT Colonography.
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.
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, which means achieving a good picture. X-rays will then be taken; holding of the breath for a number of seconds and keeping still is required during this.
Sometimes intravenous medication is given to help relax the patient.  This can also help with some of the discomfort from the procedure.
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.  Knowing what to expect beforehand, will make the procedure easier to cope with.

This page was last updated at 11:51AM on January 15, 2024.