A barium enema is a special X-ray exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon). There are two types of barium enema exams:

  • Single-column barium enema. A single-column barium enema begins by coating the inner surface of the colon with a solution containing the metallic element barium. This allows the doctor to see a silhouette of the shape and condition of your colon.
  • Air-contrast (double-contrast) barium enema. During an air-contrast barium enema, air is inserted into your colon after the barium coating is in place. The air expands the colon and improves the quality of the X-ray images.

A barium enema exam doesn't require sedation. However, preparing for a barium enema — emptying the colon with laxatives or enemas or both — can be unpleasant.

Jun. 17, 2011