Barium Enema

A Barium Enema is a fluoroscopic exam of your rectum and colon which provides a detailed evaluation of your lower digestive tract. This exam helps detect problems such as a blockage, a tumor, polyps, or other disorders. There is a small amount of radiation with a barium enema, however, the benefits of this test far outweigh any risks.

Exam Preparations

Your doctor has requested a barium enema examination of the colon (large intestine). In order for us clearly evaluate your colon, it is very important for you to empty and cleanse your colon. Therefore, you need to carefully follow the barium enema preparation instruction. You should receive this instruction from your doctor or clinic where you will have the examination. A prep kit for cleaning your colon should be available at your local pharmacy.

Important Information: For your safety and to provide you and your physician with a complete report, the technologist needs to know the following:

  • What are your symptoms?
  • Have you had any previous surgery in your abdomen?
  • Have you had a recent colonoscopy?
  • Did they remove polyps?
  • What were the findings?
  • Are you pregnant, or think you may be?
  • Did you eat or drink before the test?
  • How did your preparation for the exam go?

If you have severe kidney disease, cramping abdominal pain, diarrhea, intestinal bleeding, or inflammatory bowel disease, consult your doctor before you start preparing for the barium enema. If you are unable to consult your doctor, call MDI: 302-734-9888. Also please call our staff so that they may give you the appointment date which will allow you to fill out the information below.

Please arrive 15 minutes prior to your scheduled exam time. Your exam will take 1 to 2 hours.

  • For two days before the appointment
    • Drink only clear liquids. Meals may include clear broth, strained fruit juices, tea and coffee without milk, carbonated beverages, or Jell-O (but not red Jell-O). Do not eat solid food or milk.
  • On the day before your appointment
    • At 1:00, 3:00, 7:00, 10:00pm, and bedtime drink 8 ounces (1 glass) of clear liquid in addition to the liquid diet.
    • At 5 PM drink 8 ounces bottle of magnesium citrate (cold).
    • At 8 PM take 4 Dulcolax tablets with 8 ounces of liquid.
  • On the day of your appointment
    • Drink at least 8 ounces of coffee, tea, or strained fruit juices, but no other breakfasts.
    • At least one hour before leaving for your examination, insert Dulcolax suppository into your rectum. Wait at least 15 minutes before having a bowel movement. During the procedure you can expect a feeling of fullness, moderate to severe cramping, the urge for a bowel movement, and some general discomfort. The X-rays themselves are painless.
    • The above time and date are being reserved for you so please make every effort to come to your appointment on time.
    • After your exam, if you have constipation, please ask your doctor for a mild laxative to remove barium from the colon.

There are many different kinds of medical tests and they require different kinds of preparation. For example, some tests require fasting while other tests do not. Talk to your doctor about the test preparation that is right for you.

Patient Experience

During your exam:

  • A tube (enema catheter) will be inserted into your rectum.
  • A small balloon on the enema tip will be inflated to help prevent you from moving your bowels.
  • Barium (a liquid that is visible by X-ray) will be slowly infused into your rectum/colon.
  • You will feel like you need to go to the bathroom.
  • You will need to shift your position and hold your breath a few times while the X-rays are taken.
  • Pressure may be applied to your stomach - this helps to get the best images. Air may also be added to the enema to enhance the images. The technologist will take images after the radiologist has completed the procedure.
  • At the end of the study you will be able to go to the bathroom.

For your comfort: Breathe slowly and deeply to help yourself relax. Focus on the radiologist’s and technologist's instructions during the exam. This will speed up the process and limit any discomfort.

After The Exam

A board certified radiologist will interpret your images and prepare a diagnostic report for your physician. Results are usually made available to your physician in 24 hours. Your physician will determine how the radiologist's report can be used to develop a treatment plan for you and will speak with you about your results.

How active you are for the rest of the day is up to you. You can get back to your normal routine and diet right away, but it is very important to drink more water than usual. Water will help relieve constipation you may have after this exam. Your stool may appear white or light for a day or two. Your physician will let you know when the results are in.

Additional Information

If you would like additional information on this procedure, we recommend visiting the Barium Enema procedure section of RadiologyInfo.org.

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