Digestive System Home > Barium Enema

A barium enema is a medical procedure that is used to diagnose problems such as abnormal growths, polyps, and colon cancer. During the procedure, the lining of your rectum and colon are examined through x-rays. It is important to keep in mind that although the procedure is a good way to look for disease, it may miss small polyps, cancers, or inflammation.

What Is a Barium Enema?

A barium enema is a procedure that allows your doctor to assess the lining of your rectum and colon using x-rays.
 
A barium enema can be used to diagnose problems in the large intestine, which includes the colon and rectum. A barium enema may show problems like:
 
 

What to Expect During the Procedure

Before taking x-rays of your colon and rectum, the radiologist will put a thick liquid called barium into your colon. The barium coats the lining of the colon and rectum and makes these organs, and any signs of disease in them, show up more clearly on x rays. This barium enema also helps the radiologist see the size and shape of the colon and rectum.
 
You may be uncomfortable during the barium enema. The barium will cause fullness and pressure in your abdomen and will make you feel the urge to have a bowel movement. However, that rarely happens, because the tube used to inject the barium has a balloon on the end of it that prevents the liquid from coming back out.
 
You may be asked to change positions while x-rays are taken. Different positions give different views of the colon. After the radiologist is finished taking x-rays, you will be able to go to the bathroom. The radiologist may also take an x-ray of the empty colon afterwards.
 
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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