Barium Enema
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Barium Enema

(Barium X-ray; Lower GI Series)

En Español (Spanish Version)


A barium enema is a rectal injection of barium given to coat the lining of the colon and rectum. It is done before x-rays, in order to create better image of the lower intestine. Barium is a milky fluid that absorbs x-rays.

Barium Enema

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Parts of the Body Involved

A barium enema is used to highlight the colon and rectum.

Reasons for Procedure

A barium enema is done to enhance x-ray images. X-rays are taken of the colon and/or rectum to look for the following:

  • Abnormal growths, such as polyps or cancers
  • Ulcers
  • Diverticula (small pouches protruding through the wall of the colon)
  • Thickening of the lining of the colon or rectum

Risk Factors for Complications During the Procedure

  • Allergy to the latex balloon on the tip of enema tube (rare)
  • Severe rectal inflammation (patients with active colitis should not have procedure)
  • Pregnancy (x-rays of the abdomen and pelvis are only done in extreme cases)

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

Your intestines must be empty before this test. The day before your test, you may be asked to take some of the following steps to empty the colon as directed by your doctor:

  • Eat a clear liquid diet
  • Take laxatives
  • Take warm water or over-the-counter enemas
  • Do not eat or drink anything after midnight

During Procedure

  • You can expect to put on a hospital gown and lie on an x-ray table.
  • The room will be darkened during the test.
  • You will hold your breath when x-ray pictures are taken.
  • You will change positions.
  • The x-ray table will be tilted to different positions.


A barium enema, typically does not call for anesthesia. In some cases, you may be given an injection to relax the rectum.

Description of the Procedure

A well-lubricated enema tube is gently inserted into the rectum. Barium is injected through this tube into the colon and rectum. A small balloon at the end of the tube is inflated to keep the barium inside. You are repositioned several times to insure that the barium coats the walls of the colon and rectum. A small amount of air is then injected into the colon. A series of X-rays are taken. After x-ray images are completed, the enema tube is removed, and you are shown to the bathroom to expel the barium and air.

After Procedure

  • You will be shown to the bathroom to pass the barium and you may be given a laxative to help.
  • You will likely feel some mild to moderate abdominal cramping, which may require you to wait awhile before driving home.

How Long Will It Take?

The procedure typically takes 1 to 2 hours.

Will It Hurt?

You may feel some discomfort when the enema tube is inserted. During the test, you may feel some discomfort, including bloating and severe cramping. You may also feel as if you need to move your bowels.

Possible Complications

  • Inflammation of the lining of the rectum due to an allergic reaction to latex balloon
  • Perforated rectum or colon (serious, but rare)
  • Fetal malformation, if done during pregnancy

Average Hospital Stay

There is no hospital stay associated with this procedure.

Postoperative Care

  • You can return to your regular diet immediately following the test.
  • You can return to regular activities immediately following test (or as soon as you feel able).
  • You should drink lots of fluids because barium can cause dehydration.
  • You may be given laxatives to help pass barium, which can cause constipation.
  • Your stool may appear white or gray for 2 to 3 days after the test, due to the barium.


A radiologist will examine the x-rays. (In rare cases, if the x-rays are blurred, the test may have to be repeated.) Usually within a few days, your doctor will tell you the results. If results are abnormal, your doctor will recommend follow-up testing and treatment options.

Call Your Doctor If Any of the Following Occurs

  • Severe pain
  • Your doctor does not call with the results within 3 to 5 days


American Society of Radiologic Technologists

RadiologyInfo, Radiological Society of America and American College of Radiology


Radiology Consultant Associated

Radiology for Patients


National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse website. Available at: .

The Merck Manual of Medical Information . Merck & Co., Inc.; 2000.

University of Iowa Department of Radiology.

US National Library of Medicine.

Last reviewed November 2007 by Daus Mahnke, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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