A barium enema is a test that takes X-ray pictures of the lower part of the digestive system, also called the large bowel or colon.
The digestive system is the part of your body that is in charge of eating food and grinding it up so that the rest of your body can use it. The colon is the end of the digestive system. It stores food waste as feces between the times when you go to the bathroom.*
If you have any questions about this test, please contact the Radiology Department.
How do I get ready for the test?
You may have something to drink for breakfast. You may not have any food until the test is over.
Where will the test take place?
A barium enema is done in the Radiology Department. The Radiology Department is the place in the hospital where X-ray pictures are taken.
Who will perform the test?
A technologist is the person who takes X-ray pictures. The technologist has other jobs, too. The technologist helps the doctor and answers your questions.
What will I see in in the testing room?
The technologist will bring you into a large room where you will see machines and a high table. These machines are like large cameras. The machines are hooked up to TV screens where you and the doctor can watch how your colon works.
You will see a plastic bag with barium in it, hung on a pole at the end of the X-ray table. A tube is connected to this bag. Barium is the white fluid that runs slowly from the bag into your colon.
What happens during the test?
We will ask you to lie on the X-ray table, on your side, with your knees up close to your chest. Then, we will very gently slide a small, slippery tube into your rectum. The rectum is the opening through which you have a bowel movement.*
Then the doctor will let some of the barium run slowly through the tube into your colon. If you watch the TV screen, barium looks black as it moves through your colon. As we watch the TV screen, the doctor will stop and start the flow of barium. During this test, the doctor will ask you to turn over so that we can take X-ray pictures. When we take X-ray pictures, the TV screen flashes and you will hear a low humming noise from the machine. The doctor will ask you to lie very still, so that the X-ray pictures will be clear.
After a while, you will begin to feel very full, as you do when you really need to go to the bathroom.* Take slow, deep breaths. This helps you feel better.
Once we have the X-ray pictures the doctor needs, the technologist will take you to the bathroom. Our bathrooms are right beside our X-ray rooms. When you go to the bathroom, the barium comes out. It looks white in color. You may also see white in your stool for the next few times you go to the bathroom.
After you've finished in the bathroom, the doctor may ask for a X-ray picture without the barium. After we have all the X-ray pictures the doctor needs, this test is all done!
*Parents, please use whatever words your child knows to describe this process.
Page reviewed on: Jan 25, 2005