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A doctor concerned about a bowel condition may request a patient undergo a barium enema, a type of lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract radiography procedure, before a more invasive colonoscopy is needed. Fluoroscopy real-time X-ray technology is used to get a closer look at the large intestine to detect any abnormalities and pinpoint the cause of chronic constipation, blood in the stool or abdominal pain.

What Is a Barium Enema?

With a continuous or pulsed X-ray beam, a technologist uses fluoroscopy to examine the right and left colon, along with the sigmoid colon, rectum, appendix and distal small intestine, if requested. Fluoroscopy generates a series of images onto a monitor, so a radiologist can evaluate the movement and function of internal organs. The examined areas become more identifiable and defined using contrast material.

After you’re positioned on a table, an image is taken to ensure your bowels are emptied. Then, a rectal exam is performed before a small tube is inserted into the area. Through gravity, the tube allows a mixture of water and barium to spread and coat the lining of the colon and helps keep the solution contained within your colon. In certain instances, iodine may be recommended in place of barium.

From here, the technologist takes a series of X-rays, during which you’ll be asked to stay still and briefly hold your breath to avoid blurriness. To capture the colon from multiple angles, you may be repositioned throughout the procedure.

Who Should Have This Procedure?

Doctors typically recommend a barium enema if a patient shows any signs of the following conditions:

  • Cancer
  • Polyps
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Ongoing constipation
  • Blood in stool or suspected blood loss
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Distinctive change in bowel habits

Prior to the procedure, tell your doctor if you are pregnant, as fluoroscopy may expose the fetus to radiation. Also inform your doctor of any allergies, particularly to barium and similar contrast materials, medical conditions you have or any recent illnesses.

What You Can Expect

Similar to going for a colonoscopy, there are prior steps to prepare for a barium enema. Generally, preparation entails:

  • How to cleanse your bowel prior to the procedure; a liquid or pill laxative or over-the-counter enema may be recommended.
  • Restricting foods and liquids the day before. You’ll be provided a list of clear liquids you can consume, including juice, tea, broth and black coffee but are advised to avoid all dairy products.
  • Not eating or drinking after midnight on the day of your procedure.
  • Taking your prescribed medications with sips of water.

Barium enemas are an outpatient procedure that can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. It’s recommended you wear loose, comfortable clothing and no jewelry. You’ll further be asked to remove eyeglasses, dental devices and anything else made of metal.

Once the examination is complete, your doctor may offer a laxative or enema to assist with removing the barium dye from your system. You can immediately resume your standard diet and medications.

Does a barium enema sound like the right procedure for you? Contact us to make an appointment today!