A barium enema is an x-ray of the lower intestines. Barium is a milky fluid that absorbs x-rays. It is placed in the bowels through the rectum. This is called an enema. This makes the area easier to see on an x-ray.
This procedure is done to look for problems in the lower intestines, such as:
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Some people may have an allergic reaction to the barium or latex tube used during the test.
The care team may meet with you to talk about:
An injection may be given to relax the rectum. A lubricated tube will be gently inserted into your rectum. Barium liquid will be inserted through the tube. A small balloon at the end of the tube will be inflated. This balloon keeps the barium inside. You will be moved several times to make sure the barium coats the walls of the colon and rectum. A small amount of air will be inserted through the tube. A series of x-rays will be taken. The tube will be removed.
After the test, you will be shown to the bathroom to pass the barium. You may also be given a laxative to help it pass.
About 1 to 2 hours
Stomach cramps and white or gray stools are common for the first 2 to 3 days.
Results from this test will be ready in a few days. Your doctor will go over the results and discuss them with you. Follow up tests or treatment may be needed.
Call your doctor if you have any problems, such as:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
American Society of Radiologic Technologists
Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America
Canadian Association of Radiologists
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Glynne-Jones R, Wyrwicz L, et al. Rectal cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. Ann Oncol. 2017 Jul 1;28(suppl_4):iv22-iv40.
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X-ray (radiography)—lower GI tract. Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=lowergi. Accessed March 22, 2021.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD Last Updated: 03/22/2021