Barium Enema

Barium Enema

The radiological examination of the colon is called a barium enema. The colon is rendered visible on Xray by coating or filling it with barium, which is radio-opaque. This permits the detection of obstructions, polyps, tumours, diverticula and signs of inflammation such as ulceration.

The examination commences with the gentle insertion of a thin pipe in the rectum. A small balloon is inflated at the tip to keep the pipe positioned in the rectum just above the anal canal. Then barium is run into the colon via the pipe by gravity till the colon has been filled.  The excess barium is drained off and an injection of a muscle relaxant such as Buscopan is given. Air is gently inflated to distend the colon so that any narrowing can be demonstrated. The inflated air causes a bloated feeling but if the distension is too uncomfortable the colon can be easily decompressed by unclamping the infusion pipe.

At this stage a series of x-ray films is taken showing each area of the colon.

At the end of the procedure the patient goes to the toilet expel some of the barium and air. There is often a feeling of fullness and distension for one-to-two hours afterwards. A dose of a mild purgative such as Agarol is usually administered at the end of the examination to facilitate subsequent voiding of the barium. It is a good idea to drink lots of fluid as well after the test to aid this process and reverse any dehydration that may have occurred as a result of the preparation. If there is still barium visible in the stool the next evening, a further mild purgative should be taken to clear the colon otherwise the barium can become impacted.


Preparation for a barium enema:
Before the examination can be performed the colon must be cleared of faecal residue because this could obscure abnormalities in the colon as well as create the false impression of an abnormality.  The patient is required to follow a specific diet the day before and also has to take special purgatives to clear the colon. This is outlined on an information sheet handed out at the time the examination is booked.


Diabetic patients who need to take medication are advised to bring something to eat with them, so they can take their medication immediately after the examination.Always inform the radiographer and radiologist of any medical conditions and allergies. Female patients must inform our staff if they are pregnant. Booking an appointment is mandatory.

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