Barium is a milky fluid that absorbs
x-rays. Barium is placed into the bowels through the rectum. This is called an enema. Barium coats the lining of the lower intestines. This makes that area easier to see on an x-ray.
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You may have a barium enema to look for problems in your lower intestines. Some things your doctor may be looking for include:
Abnormal growths such as
- Diverticula—small pouches in the wall of the large intestine
- Thickening of the lining of the large intestine
Complications are rare. Some may have an allergic reaction to the barium or latex tube used during the test. Talk to your doctor about any allergies you may have.
Tell your doctor if you are allergic to latex or barium.
Your intestines must be empty before this test. Your doctor may ask you to:
- Eat a clear liquid diet.
- Take laxatives.
- Use a warm water or over-the-counter enema.
- Do not eat or drink anything after midnight.
A well-lubricated enema tube will be gently inserted into your rectum. You may be given an injection to relax the rectum. Barium will be inserted through the tube. A small balloon at the end of the tube will be inflated. This balloon keeps the barium inside. You will be moved several times to make sure the barium coats the walls of the colon and rectum. A small amount of air will be inserted through the tube. A series of x-rays will be taken. After this, the enema tube will be removed.
After the test, you:
- Will be shown to the bathroom to pass the barium and may be given a laxative
- May feel mild-to-moderate abdominal cramping and may need to wait before driving home
- Can return to your regular diet unless your doctor tells you not to
- Can return to regular activities when you feel ready
Should drink lots of fluids—barium can cause
- May have white or gray stools for 2-3 days after the test due to the barium
You may feel discomfort when the enema tube is inserted. You may have bloating and severe cramping during the test. You may also feel as if you need to move your bowels.
It may take up to a few days to receive your test results. If the results are abnormal, your doctor will recommend:
- Follow-up testing
- Treatment options
After you leave the hospital, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:
- Severe pain
- Inability to pass gas or have a bowel movement for two or more days after the exam
- Abdominal bloating
- Bloody stools
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Barium enema. McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign website. Available at:
http://www.mckinley.uiuc.edu/handouts/barium_enema.html/. Updated June 14, 2011. Accessed September 3, 2014.
Lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract x-ray (radiography). Radiology Info.org website. Available at:
http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=lowergi/. Updated March 7, 2013. Accessed September 3, 2014.
Lower GI series. National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse website. Available at:
Updated May 7, 2014. Accessed September 3, 2014.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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