Barium enema

Barium enema : is the rectal injection of barium that provides protection or covering to the colon or rectum. This is done before the x-rays are taken, in order to create better x-ray images of the small intestine. Barium is a milky fluid that absorbs X-rays.


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  • 1 Reasons for the Procedure
  • 2 Risk Factors due to Complications during the Procedure
  • 3 What to Expect
    • 1 Prior to the Procedure
    • 2 During the Procedure:
    • 3 Anesthesia
    • 4 Description of the Procedure
    • 5 For a double contrast air test
    • 6 After the procedure
    • 7 Duration
    • 8 Pain
    • 9 Possible Complications
    • 10 Postoperative Care
  • 4 Result
  • 5 Prevention
  • 6 Source

Reasons for the Procedure


Barium enema; shows the liquid barium in the rectum flowing into the colon.

The barium enema is done in order to enhance the X-ray images. X-rays are taken from the colon and / or rectum to look at the following:

  • Abnormal growths, such as polyps or cancer
  • Ulcers
  • Diverticula (small pockets that protrude through the wall of the colon)
  • Thickening of the lining of the colon or rectum

Risk Factors due to Complications during the Procedure

Due to complications during the procedure, the following risk factors occur:

  • Allergy to latex balloon when enema tube is placed (rare).
  • Severe rectal inflammation Patients with active colitis should not have a barium enema.
  • X-rays of the abdomen or pelvis should not normally be done during pregnancy.

What to expect

Prior to the Procedure

Before the exam, your intestines should be empty. The day before the exam, you will be asked to take one of the following steps to empty the colon as indicated by the doctor:

  1. Eat a liquid diet
  2. Take laxatives
  3. Take hot water or enemas without a prescription
  4. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight

During the Procedure:


Barium enema procedure; shows the insertion of liquid barium into the rectum that flows into the colon. The inset shows a picture of a patient on a stretcher receiving a barium enema.

  1. You can expect to be put on a hospital gown and lie on an x-ray table.
  2. The room may be darkened during the exam.
  3. You will be asked to hold your breath while the x-rays are taken.
  4. You can change positions.
  5. The X-ray table can be tilted to different positions.


  1. Usually none. In some cases, an injection may be given to relax the rectum.

Procedure description

A well-lubricated enema tube is inserted into the rectum. Barium is injected through this tube into the colon and rectum. A small balloon at the tip of the tube is inflated to keep the barium inside. X-rays are taken. After the X-rays are taken, the enema tube is removed and you are asked to go to the bathroom to expel the barium.

For a double air contrast exam

After expelling the barium, the enema tube is reinserted. A small amount of air is injected into the colon and more X-rays are taken. The tube is removed. You are asked to go to the bathroom again to expel the air and any remaining barium.

After the procedure

  1. You are asked to go to the bathroom to expel the barium, and a laxative may be given to help you.
  2. You will probably feel a mild or moderate abdominal cramp, which requires you to wait a bit before driving home.


1-2 hours


You may feel discomfort when the enema tube is inserted. During the exam, you may feel some discomfort, including severe swelling and cramps. You may feel like you need to have a bowel movement.

Possible complications

  1. Inflammation of the lining of the rectum due to an allergic reaction to the latex balloon
  2. Rectum or perforated colon (rare, but serious)
  3. Fetal malformation, if done during pregnancy
  4. Average hospital stay – None

Postoperative care

  1. You can return to your regular diet immediately after the exam.
  2. You can return to your normal activities immediately after the test (as soon as you feel able).
  3. You must drink a lot of fluids because barium can cause dehydration.
  4. You may need laxatives to help you pass the barium, which can cause constipation.
  5. Your stools may appear white or gray for 2 to 3 days after the test, due to the barium.


Barium enema procedure.

A radiologist will examine the x-rays. (The test may be repeated in case the X-rays appear blurry, in rare cases.) Usually, after a few days, the doctor will give you his results. If the results appear abnormal, your doctor will recommend further tests and some treatment options.


If any of the following occur, call your doctor:

  1. Sharp pain
  2. Your doctor does not call with the results within 3 to 5 days


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