by EBSCO Medical Review Board
(Barium X-ray; Lower GI Series)


A barium enema is an x-ray of the lower intestines. Barium is a milky fluid that absorbs x-rays. It is placed in the bowels through the rectum. This is called an enema. This makes the area easier to see on an x-ray.

Barium Enema
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Reasons for Test

This procedure is done to look for problems in the lower intestines, such as:

  • Abnormal growths like polyps and cancers
  • Ulcers
  • Diverticula —small pouches in the wall of the large intestine
  • Thickening of the lining of the large intestine

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Some people may have an allergic reaction to the barium or latex tube used during the test.

What to Expect

Prior to Test

The care team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Any allergies you may have, such as to barium or latex
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the test
  • Fasting before the test, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Cleaning the intestines before the test
  • Whether you need a ride to and from the test

Description of Test

An injection may be given to relax the rectum. A lubricated tube will be gently inserted into your rectum. Barium liquid 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. The tube will be removed.

After Test

After the test, you will be shown to the bathroom to pass the barium. You may also be given a laxative to help it pass.

How Long Will It Take?

About 1 to 2 hours

Will It Hurt?

Stomach cramps and white or gray stools are common for the first 2 to 3 days.


Results from this test will be ready in a few days. Your doctor will go over the results and discuss them with you. Follow up tests or treatment may be needed.

Problems to Look Out For

Call your doctor if you have any problems, such as:

  • Belly pain
  • Bloating
  • Problems passing gas or stool for two or more days
  • Bloody stools

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Society of Radiologic Technologists 

Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America 


Canadian Association of Radiologists 

Health Canada 


Colorectal cancer diagnosis and staging. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed March 22, 2021.

Glynne-Jones R, Wyrwicz L, et al. Rectal cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Ann Oncol. 2017 Jul 1;28(suppl%5F4):iv22-iv40.

Lower GI series. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: Accessed March 22, 2021.

X-ray (radiography)—lower GI tract. Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: Accessed March 22, 2021.

Revision Information