What is a Barium Enema?
A barium enema is an X-ray exam of the large intestine, including the rectum. The procedure uses fluoroscopy to display a moving image of the lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract on a monitor so doctors can look for abnormalities.
If you’re experiencing lower abdominal pain, bloating, unexplained weight loss, chronic diarrhea or constipation, or if you’re passing blood, mucus and/or pus, your doctor may recommend a barium enema.
Conditions that can be diagnosed include:
- Ulcerative Colitis
- Crohn’s Disease
- Obstructions and Polyps
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
A barium enema requires a 48-hour bowel prep to fully clean out your colon so images can be clear. Solid material in the colon reduces imaging visibility. See below for specific bowel prep instructions. You will lie on your side as a lubricated rectal tube is inserted into your rectum to allow liquid barium to flow into the intestine. During this step, you may experience some abdominal cramping. As the machine and exam table move, you may be asked to adjust your position so the radiologist can take a series of X-rays of your intestines.
When the exam is complete, you will be assisted to the bathroom or given a bedpan so some of the barium can be expelled. You should be able to resume your normal diet and activities. Constipation or impaction could occur if the barium is not completely eliminated, so we recommend drinking plenty of fluids and eating high-fiber foods following the exam.
A barium enema uses radiation, so if you have an extensive X-ray history, are pregnant or suspect that you may be pregnant, notify your doctor. As with all imaging procedures, be sure to discuss your condition, allergies, medical history and any concerns with your doctor.
Resources & Forms
Below are some forms relating to your imaging procedure. Reviewing and completing medical forms in the privacy of your home can save you time and effort when you arrive.
This exam requires a 48-hour bowel prep. Please download the bowel prep instructions form a few days before your appointment so you can ensure you have the items needed. This preparation is very detailed and should be followed carefully to obtain reliable images.
Want more details? Learn more about a barium enema (lower GI X-ray).