What is a barium enema (BE)?

A barium enema is a common method of diagnosing problems in the colon (large intestine). The barium enema exam uses barium sulfate (a thick, chalky liquid) and a fluoroscope, which is like an x-ray video camera, to take pictures of your colon. It is a safe procedure and our staff will do everything possible to make you comfortable during the exam.

How should I prepare for my exam?

Before your barium enema, you must consume a diet of only clear liquid for 24 hours preceding your appointment. This includes fruit juices (no pulp), soda, tea or coffee (without cream), broth, popsicles, Italian ices, hard candy, and JELL-O. You should try to consume an 8 oz. glass of water every hour for 10 hours the day before your appointment as well.

You must also:

  • Take Citrate of Magnesia (10 oz.) 24 hours prior to the exam
  • Take 3 tablets (5 mg each) of Dulcolax the evening prior to the exam after dinner
  • Tap water enemas two hours before the exam (1 pint to 1 quart) until returns are clear
  • Do not eat or drink the morning of the exam
  • Do not smoke or chew gum the morning of the exam

What can I expect during the exam?

The x-ray technologist will position you on your side on the examining table. The technologist will then insert a lubricated enema tube into your rectum. As the barium enters your colon, you may have cramps and feel a strong urge to use the bathroom.

As the barium fills your colon, the radiologist takes x-ray pictures. The radiologist may reposition you or push on your abdomen to make sure that all the loops of your colon fill with barium. The technologist will put air into your rectum to make the colon more visible. This may give you a cramping feeling, but this feeling is normal and will go away.

The entire procedure usually takes about an hour.

What can I expect after the exam?

Once the exam is completed, you will be allowed go to the bathroom and expel the barium. The remaining barium usually passes out in small amounts over the next few days. You will be able to resume your regular or prescribed diet and medications. Eating normally and drinking plenty of fluids will help remove the barium from your system.

It is normal for barium to give a whitish color to your bowel movements for a day or two. Watch for signs of constipation. If you have not had a bowel movement two or three days following your barium examination, it may be necessary to take a laxative.

Rochester General Health System will send the results of your exam to your physician so that he or she can make a diagnosis and explain to you what the findings mean.