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Barium enema

Lower gastrointestinal series; Lower GI series

Barium enema is a special x-ray of the large intestine, which includes the colon and rectum.

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Barium enema
Rectal cancer, X-ray
Sigmoid colon cancer, X-ray
Barium enema

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How the Test is Performed

This test may be done in a doctor's office or hospital radiology department. It is done after your colon is completely empty and clean. Your doctor will give you instructions for cleansing your colon.

During the test:

How to Prepare for the Test

Your bowels need to be completely empty for the exam. If they are not empty, the test may miss a problem in your large intestine.

You will be given instructions for cleansing your bowel. This is also called bowel preparation. Follow the instructions exactly. This ensures accurate results.

Your bowels are emptied using an enema or laxatives. 1 to 3 days before the test, you need to be on a clear liquid diet. Examples of clear liquids are:

How the Test will Feel

When barium enters your colon, you may feel like you need to have a bowel movement. You may also have:

Taking long, deep breaths may help you relax during the procedure.

It is normal for the stools to be white for a few days after this test. Drink extra fluids for 2 to 4 days. Ask your doctor about a laxative if you develop hard stools.

Why the Test is Performed

Barium enema is used to:

The barium enema test is used much less often than in the past. Colonoscopy is done more often now.

Normal Results

Barium should fill the colon evenly, showing normal bowel shape and position and no blockages.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal test results may be a sign of:

Risks

There is low radiation exposure. X-rays are monitored so that the smallest amount of radiation is used. Pregnant women and children are more sensitive to x-ray risks.

A rare, but serious, risk is a hole made in the colon (perforated colon) when the enema tube is inserted.

Related Information

X-ray
Colon cancer
Cancer
Diverticulitis
Tumor
Mucosa
Ulcerative colitis
Irritable bowel syndrome
Appendicitis
Annular pancreas
CMV - gastroenteritis/colitis
Colorectal polyps
Crohn disease
Hirschsprung's disease
Intestinal obstruction
Intussusception - children
Pyloric stenosis - infant

References

Boland GWL. Colon and appendix. In: Boland GWL. Gastrointestinal Imaging: The Requisites. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 5.

Taylor S, Plumb A. The large bowel. In: Adam A, Dixon AK, Gillard JH, Schaefer-Prokop CM, eds. Grainger & Allison's Diagnostic Radiology: A Textbook of Medical Imaging. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2015:chap 29.

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Review Date: 2/11/2015  

Reviewed By: Subodh K. Lal, MD, gastroenterologist at Gastrointestinal Specialists of Georgia, Austell, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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