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barium enema

What is a barium enema?

A barium enema, also called a lower gastrointestinal (GI) series, uses x-rays to diagnose problems in the large intestine, which includes the colon and rectum. The barium enema may show problems like abnormal growths, ulcers, polyps, diverticuli, and colon cancer.

What happens during a barium enema?

Before taking x-rays of your colon and rectum, the radiologist will put a thick liquid called barium into your colon via an enema. The barium coats the lining of the colon and rectum and makes these organs, and any signs of disease in them, show up more clearly on x-rays. It also helps the radiologist see the size and shape of the colon and rectum.

You may be uncomfortable during the barium enema. The barium will cause fullness and pressure in your abdomen and will make you feel the urge to have a bowel movement. However, that rarely happens because the tube used to inject the barium has a balloon on the end of it that prevents the liquid from coming back out.

You may be asked to change positions while x-rays are taken. Different positions give different views of the colon. After the radiologist is finished taking x-rays, you will be able to go to the bathroom. The radiologist may also take an x-ray of the empty colon afterwards.

A barium enema takes about one to two hours. The barium may cause constipation and make your stool turn gray or white for a few days after the procedure.

How do you prepare for a barium enema?

Your colon must be empty for a barium enema to be accurate. To prepare, you will have to restrict your diet for a few days beforehand. For example, you might be able to drink only liquids and eat only non-sugar, non-dairy foods for two days before the procedure; only clear liquids the day before; and nothing after midnight the night before.

To make sure your colon is empty, you will be given a laxative or an enema before the procedure. Your physician may give you other special instructions.

What results will I have if I am suffering from IBS?

There will be no visible signs of abnormalities if you are suffering from IBS.

barium enema experiences

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although some people find these tests uncomfortable and occasionally painful, they are vital diagnostic tools. I would always recommend having any and all of these tests if they are recommended by your doctor. You should also make sure you follow your doctor's preparation instructions carefully.

The tale of...Peter

Hello, here I am, fresh from the hospital and just having had an enema at 9.30 this morning. The experience was a painless one, with the exception of the intestinal cramps which can occur with the introduction of air into the colon. There is a certain amount of discomfort and nothing to cause concern.

I had an injection of Buscopan roughly half-way through the procedure, and afterward was able to drive home myself. By far the worst of the procedure is in the prep the day before. I had Picolax and I think the effects of this stuff being described as 'vigorous' are an understatement.

Apart from that, all is well and I'm a happy bunny again. If you are referred for this procedure, don't worry, it's easy. If you are worried about embarrassment, again, the doctors have seen it all and there really is nothing to be embarrassed about. Just relax and all will be well.

The tale of...Barbara

I agree with everyone on this page - the prep is the worst part (good Lord, castor oil is bad - I felt like I was on Fear Factor), and the exam itself is ridiculously uncomfortable but it's over quickly. The tech that I had was great, because she explained everything and her sweetness made me relax even more. Plus when you think that that little bit of discomfort can save your life...it's worth it! Good luck!

The tale of...Marianne

I had my barium enema last week and it wasn't that bad. The Picolax is powerful stuff - I did spend most of the day on the toilet, and it did make me quite weak and very hungry. I took the advice I was given by the hospital and bought some Vaseline which was very useful.

The exam wasn't too bad, just a bit uncomfortable, and at one point near the beginning I thought 'I can't do this, I'm going to have to tell them to stop', but I just did deep breathing and tried to relax, and the rest of it went quite well with the odd bit of humor thrown in from the nurse, which did help the situation. I can't believe I was actually laughing during my exam.

The exam took about an hour and then I could go home. The pain from the wind was barely manageable, but it only lasted an hour and started to go, so all in all I am really pleased I wasn't silly enough not to turn up. So that's another thing to add to my list of things I didn't want to do in life but weren't as bad as I thought. Just relax and you will be fine.

The tale of...Geoff

I had my first experience of a barium enema last week, and I have to say that the whole thing was remarkably OK. The Picolax laxative is powerful stuff and kicked in within about 30 minutes of taking it (drink loads of fluids). Having said that, whilst I had to make frequent visits to the toilet, at no point was I uncomfortable, and even managed to sleep most of the night.

The enema and x-ray procedure itself is OK providing you can manage to relax. It's an odd sensation as the barium mixture is poured inside you, but not one which I would describe as uncomfortable. The most discomfort I had was having to spend 30 minutes lying on the hard x-ray table.

As for going to the bathroom when the procedure is finished - again no problem. I actually struggled to go at all in the hospital and it was only several hours later at home that I actually passed most of the barium. The effects of the Picolax seem to wear off pretty quickly.

All in all, whilst it's not a pleasant procedure, it's not particularly uncomfortable and certainly not something to fear.

The tale of...Jay

I would echo what others say on this page. By far the worst part for me was drinking the stuff the night before. The fasting made me light-headed and gave me a headache.

The test itself was not nearly as bad as I thought. Uncomfortable at certain points (insertion of enema) but not painful at all. The exam itself only lasted like 15 minutes with about 10 minutes before and after for preparation, etc. When the barium flows in I would describe it as a very mild cramping/bubbling sensation.

After the test was done, I sat there for like 10 minutes with the barium still in me and felt fine. That was when the doctor showed me the results immediately on the video screen - I felt well enough to sit there and converse with him/ask questions while everything was still in me.

So if you're preparing to have one of these, don't sweat it. Just pace yourself drinking the crud the night before.

The tale of...Lee

I went for my test yesterday! The worst of it all was the prep for it. The night prior was horrible, I pretty will slept in the bathroom after taking the laxatives. The next day I was weak, nauseous, and felt like jello. The test itself was not as bad as I had anticipated and the radiologist added some humor in order to alleviate the discomfort. It simply feels like you're going to have the biggest explosion, but thank goodness with some muscle control you are able to hold it until the x-rays are done. Not as bad as I thought.

I ran to have a bagel with coffee right after the test and vomited within half an hour, so go easy on the stomach once you've done your test. I was nauseous for the rest of the day and slept the entire afternoon.

The tale of...Pauline

The worst part is definitely the prep. Drink plenty of water if you are given Picolax laxative. Normally you take two but I took three as I thought two did not flush my bowel out enough. The actual test is fine, relax and it will be OK. Honest!

The tale of...A

I am younger than 16 years of age and have had a barium enema. For everyone concerned with going through a barium enema, try to relax. The worst part of it all is the 24 hour prep. It can be very difficult to always run back and forth to the bathroom and some of the physical things you must do to prepare are not very great either, such as the bag enema.

During prep I began to get dehydrated because I was losing so much liquid, and this resulted in vomiting and nausea. Therefore, it is very important to remain hydrated at all times.

A barium enema does not take very long at all. You will feel uncomfortable during the exam because there is a bit of pressure and you feel as though you need to use the bathroom immediately. This is all normal and trust me, once the exam is over you will be glad to go to the bathroom. If you co-operate and relax and turn when the doctor tells you to turn, everything will go well and quickly.

There is no reason to fear the exam itself because it does not hurt, it just has an uncomfortable feeling. Good luck, and remember to relax!