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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Reasons for Test
You may have a barium enema to look for problems in your lower intestines. Some things your doctor may be looking for include:
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.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
Tell your doctor if you are allergic to latex or barium.
Your bowel 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.
Description of Test
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 dehydration
- May have white or gray stools for 2-3 days after the test due to the barium
How Long Will It Take?
About 1-2 hours
Will It Hurt?
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
Call Your Doctor
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 2 or more days after the exam
- Abdominal bloating
- Bloody stools
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Society of Radiologic Technologists https://www.asrt.org
Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America https://www.radiologyinfo.org
Canadian Association of Radiologists http://www.car.ca
Health Canada https://www.canada.ca
Barium enema. McKinley Health Center, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign website. Available at: http://www.mckinley.uiuc.edu/handouts/barium%5Fenema.html. Updated June 14, 2011. Accessed October 3, 2017.
Lower GI series. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diagnostic-tests/lower-gi-series. Updated June 2016. Accessed October 3, 2017.
X-ray (radiography)—lower GI tract. Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=lowergi. Updated March 1, 2017. Accessed October 3, 2017.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD
- Review Date: 09/2018
- Update Date: 10/20/2020