Barium Enema Examination

A barium enema examination involves taking X-rays of the lower digestive tract, which includes the colon and the rectum. In order to examine this area, a barium enema is given so that the barium can be retained while the series of X-rays is taken. This page is intended to provide you with information about the procedure.

How Does the Procedure Work?

X-rays normally pass through soft tissues of the body, such as those in the lower digestive tract. However, when barium coats the colon and rectum, it blocks the X-rays and casts a shadow. This shadow is displayed on a fluoroscopy screen and recorded on X-ray film.

Preparing for the Procedure

Because your lower digestive tract must be clean to ensure a successful exam, your doctor may prescribe a liquid diet for a period of time before the procedure. To help clean the colon, a laxative, suppository and/or enema may be prescribed for the evening before and the morning of the exam. Your physician will provide you with specific instructions on administering enemas before the exam.

Any woman who thinks she may be pregnant should inform her doctor before scheduling the exam.

What to Expect

  • After removing your clothing and putting on a gown, you will be asked to lie on an examination table. A fluoroscope, which allows the body’s organs to be viewed on a TV monitor and recorded on X-ray film, will be positioned above you.
  • You will then lie on your side so that a lubricated enema tip can be inserted into your rectum to allow a liquid barium mixture to flow into your bowel.
  • Using the fluoroscope, your radiologist will observe the barium as it flows into the colon. Periodically, you will be asked to turn from side to side.
  • Each time X-rays are taken, it is important that you remain perfectly still. The sliding and snapping sounds you will hear is the film cassette moving into place.
  • After a series of X-rays is completed, you will be allowed to go to the bathroom and expel the barium. You may need to have additional X-rays of the empty colon.
  • The examination usually takes less than one hour. You will need to wait until the radiologist has examined the X-rays to ensure that they are acceptable.
  • To ensure that all barium is completely removed from the colon, an additional laxative or enema may be recommended following your exam. After the examination is interpreted by the radiologist, a written report will be sent to your physician. Please allow several days before contacting your physician.

The Radiation Dose

While a generally safe procedure, the examination does involve radiation. As such, the benefits of having it performed should outweigh any associated radiation risks. If you have any questions regarding your procedure, please contact the chief technologist at 732-923-6800 or the medical physicist at 732-923-6811.