Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Barium Enema
A barium enema is an
X-ray exam of the
large intestine (colon and rectum). It may also be called a lower gastrointestinal (GI) exam. The test is used to help find diseases
and other problems that affect the large intestine. The colon is filled with a
contrast material that contains barium so that the intestine can be seen on an X-ray. This is done by
pouring the contrast material through a tube inserted into the anus. The barium
blocks X-rays. This causes the barium-filled colon to show up clearly on the X-ray
There are two types of barium enemas.
The single-contrast study may be the better choice for certain medical reasons. It may also be a good choice for older people who may not be able to
tolerate a double-contrast study, which takes longer and is more uncomfortable. If the results are not clear, then a double-contrast study may also be
A barium enema is done to:
Before a barium enema, tell your
doctor if you:
Before a barium enema, you must prepare your large intestine so that it is very clean. The colon must be completely
clear of stool and gas. Even a small amount of stool can affect the results of
Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding
the need for this test. Ask about its risks, how it will be done, and what the results
will mean. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the
medical test information form(What is a PDF document?).
The colon is filled with a contrast material that contains barium so that the colon can be seen on an X-ray.
This is done by pouring the contrast material through a tube inserted into the
anus. The barium blocks X-rays, causing the
barium-filled colon to show up clearly on the X-ray picture.
Your doctor will watch the flow of the barium through
your colon on an X-ray
fluoroscope monitor that is like a TV
A single-contrast study usually takes 30 to 45 minutes. But the actual time the barium is held inside is only 10 to 15 minutes. A
double- or air-contrast study may take up to an hour.
When the test is finished:
test, you may go back to your regular diet unless your doctor gives you other instructions. Be sure to
drink plenty of liquids. They replace those you have lost, and they help flush the
remaining barium out of your system. Your bowel movements may look white or
pinkish for 1 to 2 days after the test. Your doctor may tell you to take a medicine, such as a
laxative, to help you pass the rest of the barium.
A barium enema can be
uncomfortable and tiring. But it usually doesn't last very long.
Many people report that the preparation and bowel cleaning are the hardest parts. The laxative may not taste good, and the
frequent bowel movements can be tiring. Also, the anal area can become quite
sore during the process. Warm
sitz baths or a local anesthetic salve, such as
Preparation H, can help ease this discomfort.
You may be
embarrassed by the test. You may worry that you won't be able to hold the
barium and that it will leak onto you or onto the table. The doctors who
perform this procedure are used to this. They will be able to help
The X-ray table is hard and sometimes cold because
air-conditioning is used to keep the equipment cool. When the barium first
flows into your colon, it may feel a bit cool. As your colon fills, you may
have a feeling of fullness, moderate cramping, and a strong urge to have a
bowel movement. If an air-contrast study is performed, you may feel more
cramping or gas pains from having gas pumped into your large intestine. Taking
slow, deep breaths through your mouth can help you relax.
The test may take awhile. You may want to bring something to do quietly (like bringing a book or magazine to read).
feel tired for a day or so after the test. Make sure to arrange for someone to
drive you home after the test. This test can be exhausting.
There is very little chance of a problem from
having a barium enema.
Call your doctor right away if you:
A barium enema, or lower
gastrointestinal (GI) exam, is an
X-ray test of the
large intestine (colon and rectum).
The results of a barium
enema are usually ready right after the test or within a few
The colon looks normal.
One or more problems in the colon are
found, such as:
Many conditions can change barium enema test results. Your
doctor will discuss any important abnormal results with you in relation to
your symptoms and past health.
You may not be able to have the test, or the results may not be helpful, if:
Other Works Consulted
Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Pagana KD, Pagana TJ (2010). Mosby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 4th ed. St. Louis: Mosby Elsevier.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerJerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology
Current as ofOctober 9, 2017
Current as of:
October 9, 2017
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Jerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
© 1995-2018 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.