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Air contrast barium enema

An air contrast barium enema is an imaging test used to look at the large bowel or colon to check for problems such as polyps, inflammation or colitis, narrowing of the colon, tumours or diverticula.

How do I prepare for the air contrast barium enema?

Specific instructions will be given, but in general you should not eat or drink for some time before the test. Generally, your diet will be adjusted to include more liquid and fewer solids. Occasionally, a full liquid diet may be recommended. It is important to follow these instructions because the colon needs to be empty for the test to be effective. If necessary, the doctor may also recommend a laxative or enema to cleanse the colon before the test.

What happens on the day of the test?

On the day of the test, you will be brought into the testing room and positioned on a table.

Behind you will be a specialised X-ray machine that allows video images of the body to be seen on a monitor. The X-ray technician will probably first take a regular X-ray of your abdomen. After that, he or she will insert a lubricated tube into your anus. The tube is connected to a bag of barium sulphate solution, which is then carefully and slowly pumped through your intestine.

After the barium passes through the intestine, air will then be pumped into it. Using the barium, the technician is able to get a clear picture of the lining of the intestine from multiple angles. For some of these angles, you will be asked to move around in order to coat all parts of the colon. Once you are in the correct position, it is important to remain still and hold your breath while the X-rays are being taken.

As the test is being performed, it is common to feel slight cramping and a strong urge to have a bowel movement. Taking deep breaths can help you relax and may alleviate this feeling.

What happens after the test?

You will be allowed to return to your normal diet and lifestyle soon after the test.

You will pass what remains of the barium for the next few days. Drinking plenty of water helps move the barium out of your system.

Rarely, an infection or a tear in the rectal wall can result from an air contrast barium enema. It is important to look out for the following warning signs.

Seek medical advice immediately if you:

  • Develop a fever
  • See a substantial amount of blood in your stool (poo)
  • Are in a lot of pain
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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on May 13, 2016

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