What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

During the exam

During a barium enema exam, you'll wear a gown but likely nothing else. Sedation isn't usually necessary.

You'll begin the exam lying on your side on an X-ray machine table. An X-ray will be taken to make sure your colon is clean. Then a lubricated enema tube will be inserted into your rectum. A barium bag will be connected to the tube to deliver the barium solution into your colon.

The barium solution temporarily coats the lining of your colon. This provides a silhouette of the shape and condition of the inner lining of your colon on X-ray images. If you're having an air-contrast (double-contrast) barium enema, air will be inserted through your rectum to expand the colon and improve the quality of images.

The tube that's used to deliver the barium has a small balloon near its tip. When positioned at the entrance of your rectum, the balloon helps keep the barium inside your body. As your colon fills with barium, you may feel the urge to have a bowel movement. Abdominal cramping may occur as well. To relax, take long, deep breaths. Do your best to hold the enema tube in place.

You may be asked to turn and hold various positions on the exam table. This helps ensure that your entire colon is coated with barium and allows the radiologist to view the colon from various angles. You also may be asked to hold your breath at times.

The radiologist may press firmly on your abdomen and pelvis, manipulating your colon for better viewing on a monitor attached to the X-ray machine. A number of x-rays will likely be taken of your colon from various angles.

A barium enema exam typically takes about 30 to 45 minutes.

After the exam

After the exam, most of the barium will be removed from your colon through the enema tube. When the tube is removed, you'll be able to use the toilet to expel additional barium and air. Any abdominal cramping usually ends quickly, and you'll be able to return to your usual diet and activities right away.

You may have white stools for a few days as your body naturally removes any remaining barium from your colon. Because barium may cause constipation, it's important to drink extra fluids in the days following the exam. Your doctor may recommend a laxative if needed.

Check with your doctor if you're unable to have a bowel movement or pass gas more than two days after the exam or if your stool doesn't return to its normal color within a few days after the exam. This may indicate that some amount of barium remains in your colon.

Jun. 17, 2011