Contrast Enema for Children


What is a barium/contrast enema?

A barium or contrast enema is a type of X-ray that takes pictures of your large intestine (your colon). The contrast or barium agent is introduced through the rectum and can give the doctor detailed information that cannot be learned from just a physical exam. The type of contrast used will be determined by the radiologist prior to the exam.

Why is my child having a barium/contrast enema?

A barium or contrast enema is used to diagnosis a number of issues. They include constipation, abdominal pain, and change in bowel habits, chronic diarrhea, and unexplained weight loss. Enemas can also check for irritable bowel syndrome, Hirschsprung disease, and problems with the structure of the large intestine.

Test Details

What preparation is needed for my child for a barium/contrast enema?

• For contrast enemas, no special preparation is usually needed. Your child can eat and drink normally before the procedure.

• You may want to explain to your child a little about the procedure beforehand. For tips on how to talk to your child, contact the child life specialist department.

What happens during my child's barium/contrast enema?

• Your child will be awake during the entire exam.

• You will be brought back to the fluoroscopy room and your child will be asked to change into a gown.

• Your child will need to lie down on the fluoroscopy table and a radiology technologist will take an X-ray of your child’s abdomen.

• Your child will then be asked to lie on their left side with their knees bent for their comfort and ease of placing the enema tube.

• The radiologist or radiology technologist will place a small lubricated tube into your child’s rectum. The tube is connected to a bag containing the contrast, then special tape will be placed on your child’s buttocks keeping the enema tip in place.

• The fluoroscopy camera will come over your child to take the pictures of your child’s colon and large intestines. Your child may be asked to roll from side to side and front to back during the procedure to allow the radiologist to take pictures of different parts of the colon and large intestine.

• The contrast or barium will move slowly through the tube into the rectum filling the colon and large intestines. During this time your child may feel as though they have to go to the bathroom. This feeling is completely normal.

• When the X-ray pictures have been taken the tape and tube will be removed and your child can go to the restroom.

• After your child has used the restroom an overhead X-ray will be taken.

What happens after my child's barium/contrast enema?

Your child can resume normal activities and a normal diet after the study. If barium is used, encourage your child to drink plenty of liquids. Your child’s stool may appear white in color for a couple of days after the enema if barium is used. If a water soluble contrast is used, your child may have increased bowel movements or feeling as though they need to go to the bathroom more frequently.

Additional Details

What can I do to help put my child more at ease during the barium/contrast enema?

• Give your child a simple explanation of why he or she needs a contrast enema.

• Your child may hold on to a favorite toy or blanket during the test for comfort.

• You may stay close to your child throughout the entire test, holding hands and comforting while offering praise and reassurance.

• Some ways your child can keep calm and relaxed are to blow on a pinwheel, take slow deep breaths, sing, or read a book. Infants may be comforted by a pacifier or bottle. Older children may want to bring music or a hand-held video game to play during the exam.

• You can practice some of these relaxation techniques with your child at home.

• Remember, your presence is a comfort to your child. Please try to plan for alternate care for siblings on the day the test is scheduled.

• Pregnant mothers are unable to stay in the room. Please arrange for another trusted, comforting adult to be with your child during the test.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/01/2019.


  • America College of Radiology. Radiological Society of North America. Lower GI Exam (Barium Enema). ( Accessed 4/1/2019.
  • Expert knowledge and experience of healthcare providers at Cleveland Clinic

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