Barium enema

A barium enema is an X-ray test of the colon, used to assess for physical abnormalities, such as tumours, polyps or diverticulosis.  It has largely been superseded by colonoscopy and CT virtual colonoscopy; however, there are occasions when it is still used.

The day before the test the patient ingests a strong laxative to clear the bowel out.  Oral intake is limited to fluids for the day before also.  The test itself involves a catheter (tube) being inserted into the anal canal to instill barium (a radio-opaque substance that shows up on X-rays) into the large bowel.  Air is often inserted too (“double contrast barium enema”).  A number of x-ray pictures are taken with the patient lying on their back and side.

Barium enema is a relatively safe procedure.  There is a very small risk of bowel perforation.  It is common to experience some minor discomfort during the test.

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