Barium Enema

An enema (EN-uh-ma) is an injection of fluid into the rectum for clearing out the bowel or giving drugs. A barium enema (BE) uses liquid barium (a metallic element that shows up on x-rays) as a contrast dye. This allows the doctor to take an x-ray of the upper part of your large intestine, or colon. The purpose of a barium enema is to detect polyps, diverticula (small pouches or sacs), inflammatory disease, and structural changes in the large intestine.

How do I prepare for the test?

The following are general guidelines. You will receive more specific instructions from your doctor, nurse, or testing center.



Please check with your doctor or testing center for instructions. If you have diabetes, please talk to your doctor about taking your routine medication.


You will receive specific instructions, which usually include a liquid diet 24 hours before the test, a cleansing enema, and a laxative preparation. It is important that you follow these instructions carefully. The accuracy of your test results depends on this. Please bring:

  • A prescription slip from your doctor
  • Insurance forms and/or referrals
  • A list of your medications
  • A list of food, latex, or medication allergies

What will happen during the test?

If you are pregnant or think you might be, or if you are breastfeeding, tell the technologist and/or doctor who is performing your test.

  1. You will be asked to change into a hospital gown and remove any metal objects that might block the x-ray pictures of your body.
  2. You will lie down on an x-ray table, and a radiologist may perform a rectal exam.
  3. The enema tip will be placed into your rectum, and barium, or a mixture of barium and air, will enter your colon. These substances are called “contrast material” because they help the body organs show up better on x-rays.
  4. The radiologist will take x-ray pictures as the contrast material flows into your colon.

You will be asked to change positions several times and to hold your breath when pictures are taken. This will help you stay still, so that motion does not blur your x-rays. A technologist will help you get into different positions and may apply a compression device. Compression helps separate parts of your bowel that normally overlap. This helps the radiologist get a better view of your large intestine.

The pictures will be developed and checked by the radiologist. Then the contrast material will be removed from your colon. The technologist will assist you to the bathroom, where you should finish passing the contrast material. After this bowel movement, a final picture will be taken. The entire test will take approximately 45 to 90 minutes.

What will happen after the test?

Drink plenty of liquids one to two days after the test. Resume your regular diet and medications. For a few days, your bowel movements may be a light to white color. This shows the barium is passing from your system. If you are constipated after the test, notify the doctor who ordered the test.

How and when will I get the results of my test?

Your doctor will discuss the results of your test with you. Please talk with your doctor and/or testing center about how to get the results of your test.

What I need to do:

  • Schedule an appointment at ___________________ (place) on ___________ (date).
  • Report to ______________________________ at ______________________ (time).
  • Receive specific instructions: ____________________________________________
  • Bring prescription, insurance information, and/or referral slip.
  • Bring a list of medications and alleregies.

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