Barium Enema or Lower GI (Gastrointestinal) Study

What is a barium Enema and what does it do?

A barium enema, or lower gastrointestinal (GI) examination, is an X-ray examination of the large intestine (colon and rectum). The test is used to help diagnose diseases and other problems that affect the large intestine. To make the intestine visible on an X-ray picture, the colon is filled with a contrast material containing barium. This is done by pouring the contrast material through a tube inserted into the anus. The barium blocks X-rays, causing the barium-filled colon to show up clearly on the X-ray picture.

There are two types of barium enemas:

  • In a single-contrast study , the colon is filled with barium, which outlines the intestine and reveals large abnormalities.
  • In a double-contrast or air-contrast study , the colon is first filled with barium and then the barium is drained out, leaving only a thin layer of barium on the wall of the colon. The colon is then filled with air. This provides a detailed view of the inner surface of the colon, making it easier to see narrowed areas (strictures), diverticula, or inflammation.

In some cases, the single-contrast study may be preferred for specific medical reasons or for older people who may not be able to tolerate the time-consuming and somewhat more uncomfortable double-contrast study. But if the results are not clear, a double-contrast study may also be done.

Why is it done?

A barium enema is done to:

  • Identify inflammation of the intestinal wall that occurs in inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. A barium enema also may be used to monitor the progress of these diseases.
  • Find problems with the structure of the large intestine, such as narrowed areas (strictures) or pockets or sacs (diverticula) in the intestinal wall.
  • Help correct a condition called ileocolic intussusception , in which the end of a child’s small intestine protrudes into the large intestine.
  • Evaluate abdominal symptoms such as pain, blood in stool, or altered bowel habits.
  • Evaluate other problems such as anemia or unexplained weight loss.

Who performs the test?

The examination is performed by a doctor specially trained in Radiology (Radiologist) and a licensed Radiologic Technologist RT (R).

Where does it take place?

At Jackson Hospital in the Radiology Department.

How long does it take?

The average person takes 30 minutes to an hour.

What can I do to make it a success?

  • Wear comfortable, easy to remove clothing.
  • Follow all preparation instructions given to you by your physician’s office. If you have any questions, please call us for clarification. We want your exam to be as successful as possible.

What should I do before the exam?

  • Take nothing by mouth 8 hours prior to your exam. You may take your medications with minimal amount water.
  • If you are a woman of childbearing age and there is a chance you may be pregnant, please consult your physician before scheduling this exam.
  • You must pick up a prep kit from our Radiology department front desk. The instructions are provided.

What happens during the exam?

  • You will be asked to dress in a patient gown.
  • You will be given a small cup of carbonated water and a cup of liquid barium to drink while the radiologist observes under fluoroscopy and takes images of your esophagus, stomach and duodenum.
  • You will be positioned for your exam based on the area of the body to be x-rayed. This could be standing, sitting or lying down in various positions on the exam table.
  • Most exams require multiple views or positions of the body part for adequate evaluation.

What should I do after the exam?

  • You will be given discharge instructions requesting that a mild laxative be taken after the study.
  • After the examination, your stool will be lightly colored from the barium for 24 to 72 hours. It is important to remove the barium from the large intestine. If the barium is not removed, it may harden and block the intestine. Drink 6 to 8 glasses (soda pop can size) of liquid after the test to help get rid of the barium. This will also help to keep you from being constipated or dehydrated.

Contact Information:

Hospital (main operator): (850) 526-2200
Radiology Department: (850) 718-2580

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