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Barium Enema


A barium enema is an x-ray procedure used to examine the lower intestines. Liquid barium is a white, chalky solution that helps healthcare providers see the intestines more clearly. The lower intestines include the large bowel and rectum.

Digestive Tract


The week before your procedure:

  • Write down the correct date, time, and location of your procedure.
  • Arrange a ride home. Ask a family member or friend to drive you home after your surgery or procedure. Do not drive yourself home.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if you need to stop using aspirin or any other prescribed or over-the-counter medicine before your procedure or surgery.
  • Bring your medicine bottles or a list of your medicines when you see your healthcare provider. Tell your provider if you are allergic to any medicine. Tell your provider if you use any herbs, food supplements, or over-the-counter medicine.
  • Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast solution.
  • You may need blood, urine, or bowel movement tests before your procedure. Talk to your healthcare provider about these or other tests you may need. Write down the date, time, and location for each test.

The day before your procedure:

  • You may need to drink clear liquids, such as gelatin, broth, or clear fruit juice. Do not eat or drink dairy products. Limit sugar. Avoid nuts, cereal, beans, fried foods, and bread. Increase the amount of water that you drink. Ask your healthcare provider how much to drink.
  • Your intestines need to be empty before your procedure. This will help your intestines show more clearly on the x-rays. You may need to take a laxative. This medicine will give you diarrhea to clean out your intestines. Ask your healthcare provider which laxative to take.

The night before your procedure:

Ask healthcare providers about directions for eating and drinking. You may need a warm water enema to help empty your intestines. Your healthcare provider will show you how to do an enema.

The day of your procedure:

  • Do not eat or drink anything on the morning of your procedure. The pictures may not be seen clearly if your stomach is not empty. You may also need another enema.
  • Ask your healthcare provider before taking any medicine on the day of your procedure. These medicines include insulin, diabetic pills, high blood pressure pills, or heart pills. Bring a list of all the medicines you take, or your pill bottles, with you to the hospital.
  • You or a close family member will be asked to sign a legal document called a consent form. It gives healthcare providers permission to do the procedure or surgery. It also explains the problems that may happen, and your choices. Make sure all your questions are answered before you sign this form.
  • Healthcare providers may insert an intravenous tube (IV) into your vein. A vein in the arm is usually chosen. Through the IV tube, you may be given liquids and medicine.
  • An anesthesiologist will talk to you before your surgery. You may need medicine to keep you asleep or numb an area of your body during surgery. Tell healthcare providers if you or anyone in your family has had a problem with anesthesia in the past.


What will happen:

  • Your healthcare provider will give you medicine that will help relax your intestines and rectum. Healthcare providers will take x-rays before the barium enema is given. During a single contrast barium enema, a soft tube with lubricant jelly will be gently placed into your rectum. The barium is then passed through the tube and into your lower intestine. A small balloon on the tip of the tube may be inflated to help hold the barium in your intestine. You may feel pressure and mild discomfort. You may have an urge to have a bowel movement. Pictures will be taken as the table moves and you change positions.
  • During a double contrast barium enema, the barium will be drained out of the rectum. Your healthcare provider will then put gas into the tube to help expand your intestine. Pictures will be taken to see how the gas moves inside your intestine. When the procedure is finished, the tube will be removed. You may then go to the bathroom and get rid of as much barium as possible. More pictures may be taken after you have emptied as much barium as possible from your intestine.

After your procedure:

You will be taken to a room to rest until you are fully awake. Healthcare providers will monitor you closely for any problems. Do not get out of bed until your healthcare provider says it is okay. When your healthcare provider sees that you are okay, you will be able to go home or be taken to your hospital room.


  • You cannot make it to your procedure.
  • You have a fever.
  • You get a cold or the flu.
  • You have questions or concerns about your procedure.

Seek Care Immediately if

  • Your symptoms get worse.


  • You may have abdominal cramps or an abnormal heartbeat. You may bleed more than expected. The barium may become hard and cause a blockage in your intestines. Your intestines may tear due to increased pressure. This may cause bowel contents to leak out of the intestines into your abdomen.
  • Without this procedure, your condition may not be diagnosed. Correct treatment may not be given. Your signs and symptoms may get worse. You may have trouble eating, digesting food, and having a bowel movement.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.