Preparing for a Barium Enema Test: Care Instructions

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A barium enema test is an X-ray of your large intestine (colon and rectum). It is used to help find diseases and other problems that affect the large intestine.

Before the X-ray, you will be given an enema that contains barium. Barium is also called contrast material. It is put into your intestine through a tube that is placed in your rectum. The barium helps your large intestine show up clearly on the X-ray picture.

A barium enema can be uncomfortable. But usually the test does not take a long time. Many people say that the preparation is the hardest part of the test.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How do you prepare for the test?

  • For 1 to 3 days before the test, you will drink water, fruit juices, plain coffee or tea, and broth.
  • On the day before the test:
    • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
    • You will take a laxative. Your doctor will give you this to empty your intestines.
    • You may be asked to do a water enema to clean your colon. You may need to do this again on the day of the test.

Before a barium enema, tell your doctor if you:

  • Are or think you may be pregnant.
  • Are allergic to latex. Latex products are often used to give the barium. If you are allergic to latex, different products will be used.
  • Are allergic to barium.
  • Have had an upper digestive barium test (upper GI or barium swallow) recently.

After the test, you may have light-colored stools and cramping for a few days.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now if:

  • You cannot or did not follow the directions to prepare for the test. These directions are to make sure there is no stool in your colon. If you do not follow the instructions, the exam may need to be done at another time.
  • You have severe belly pain after the test.
  • You are not able to have a bowel movement after the test.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.