What is a barium enema?
An enema uses a small tube to gently inject a special liquid (barium) into your rectum. Usually, an enema is filled with a special fluid to help you move your bowels when you're constipated or in preparation for surgical procedures. A barium enema uses a metallic solution that coats the inside of your large intestine, making it easier to see the intestine with an x-ray.
When is a barium enema used?
Barium enemas can be useful just about any time your doctor needs to evaluate your colon. They're most commonly used to look for:
- colon cancer
- polyps, fleshy growths that may be benign or precancerous
- diverticulitis, a condition that causes tiny “pouches” to form in the walls of the intestine
- inflammatory bowel disease
They can also be used diagnostically to determine the cause of specific symptoms, like:
- abdominal pain
- unintentional weight loss
- changes in bowel habits
- bleeding from the rectum
What is the procedure like?
You'll need to wear a hospital gown and remove any jewelry, eyeglasses or dentures. During the exam, you'll lie on an x-ray table while the x-ray machine takes pictures from above. Once you're lying down, a lubricated tube will be inserted gently into your rectum to deliver the barium solution. Air may also be injected through the tube to expand your colon for easier viewing. Having an enema can make you feel as though you need to move your bowels. Taking deep breaths will help you relax until the procedure is over and the barium is released from your bowel. You'll be asked to assume different positions to enable the technician to obtain the clearest images possible. You may also be asked to hold your breath from time to time so the camera can “see” different parts of your colon from different angles. Once the procedure is complete, you may feel some cramping from the air that was used to expand your colon. You'll be able to use the toilet right away to expel air as well as most of the remaining barium so cramping resolves quickly. There is no “downtime” with a barium enema, so you'll be able to resume your regular activities right away. Most procedures take about 30 to 60 minutes to perform. To learn what you'll need to do to prepare for your barium enema, RAI has prepared a .pdf you can download here.
What happens to the barium afterward?
After your enema, the remaining barium will be expelled via bowel movements, which may appear whitish until all the barium is expelled. Barium can cause constipation in some people, so be sure to drink plenty of fluids to keep your stools soft and your bowels moving.
Having a barium enema is a simple, straightforward procedure that can provide your doctor with important information that can be used to help manage your care. At RAI, we use the most advanced techniques so you'll feel comfortable and relaxed throughout your procedure. To learn more about the procedure or to schedule an appointment, call our office at 609-585-8800.