A barium enema is a special type of X-ray that takes images of the large intestine (colon, rectum and anus). It uses a contrast substance to coat the large intestine then takes pictures. The procedure helps healthcare providers diagnose certain gastrointestinal (GI) tract conditions or learn reasons for GI symptoms.
A barium enema is a special type of X-ray healthcare providers use to take images of your large intestine. It’s also called:
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A barium enema can help identify changes or problems in your large intestine, which includes your colon, rectum and anus. For example, the test can help diagnose or assess:
A healthcare provider may order a barium enema if you have certain symptoms, such as:
Colonoscopy is also used for many of those conditions. Your healthcare provider will determine which test is right for you.
A radiology technician or radiologist usually performs this procedure. They are specialists in medical imaging.
Radiography uses radiation to create images of the tissues, organs, bones and vessels inside your body. A barium enema uses a special type of X-ray called fluoroscopy. Barium is a contrast medium, a substance that improves the visibility of internal structures during radiography.
The white, chalky barium liquid coats the inner lining of your large intestine. Then the X-ray machine can take pictures of the substance. That helps healthcare providers see your large intestine’s shape, lining and size.
Your healthcare provider will give you specific instructions to follow before the test. They may include:
A barium enema usually takes 30 minutes to an hour.
For the test, your healthcare provider will:
You shouldn’t have any pain during a barium enema, but you may feel:
Take deep breaths to help yourself relax. Resist the urge to poop until the healthcare provider says you can go to the bathroom.
When your healthcare provider has all the necessary images, they’ll remove the tube and allow you to go to the bathroom.
Over the next few days, drink plenty of fluids and eat foods that contain a lot of fiber. Examples include whole grains, vegetables and fruits. This will help flush out the barium and regulate your bowel movements. Your healthcare provider also may recommend that you take a laxative.
Your stool might be white, gray or light brown for a few days. This is normal — it’s the barium leaving your body.
Barium enemas are generally safe, but rare complications can occur, such as:
Barium is not radioactive, but X-rays give off a small amount of radiation.
A radiologist will examine the images and write a report for the healthcare provider who ordered the test. That provider will schedule a follow-up appointment or call you. That’s when you will get the results and next steps. It might take a day to several days.
After a barium enema, seek medical attention immediately if you experience any signs of complications:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A barium enema is a special type of X-ray that takes images of your large intestine, which includes your colon, rectum and anus. Your healthcare provider may order this test if you have unexplained gastrointestinal symptoms or suspected disease in your large intestine.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/15/2022.
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