What you can expect
During the exam
During your barium enema, you'll wear a gown and be asked to remove eyewear, jewelry or removable dental devices. The exam will be performed by a radiology technician and a physician who specializes in diagnostic imaging (radiologist).
You'll begin the exam lying on your side on a specially designed table. An X-ray will be taken to make sure your colon is clean. Then a lubricated enema tube will be inserted into your rectum. A barium bag will be connected to the tube to deliver the barium solution into your colon.
If you're having an air-contrast (double-contrast) barium enema, air will flow through the same tube and into your rectum.
The tube that's used to deliver the barium has a small balloon near its tip. When positioned at the entrance of your rectum, the balloon helps keep the barium inside your body. As your colon fills with barium, you may feel the urge to have a bowel movement. Abdominal cramping may occur.
Do your best to hold the enema tube in place. To relax, take long, deep breaths.
You may be asked to turn and hold various positions on the exam table. This helps ensure that your entire colon is coated with barium and enables the radiologist to view the colon from various angles. You also may be asked to hold your breath at times.
The radiologist may press firmly on your abdomen and pelvis, manipulating your colon for better viewing on a monitor attached to the X-ray machine. A number of X-rays will likely be taken of your colon from various angles.
A barium enema exam typically takes about 30 to 60 minutes.
After the exam
After the exam, most of the barium will be removed from your colon through the enema tube. When the tube is removed, you'll be able to use the toilet to expel additional barium and air. Any abdominal cramping usually ends quickly, and you should be able to return to your usual diet and activities right away.
You may have white stools for a few days as your body naturally removes any remaining barium from your colon. Barium may cause constipation, so you may find you can reduce your risk of constipation by drinking extra fluids in the days following your exam. Your doctor may recommend a laxative, if needed.
Check with your doctor if you're unable to have a bowel movement or pass gas more than two days after the exam or if your stool doesn't return to its normal color within a few days.