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Prep for Barium Enema

X-ray image of the colon

A barium enema has been scheduled for you on: ____________________ at ____:____

This test takes about an hour. It will help find out if a problem in your colon is causing your symptoms.

During the exam

The exam is an X-ray that is taken of your colon. You will be asked to wear a gown and lie down on the exam table. Before the X-ray is taken, the healthcare provider or radiology tech will put an enema tube into your rectum. Liquid barium will be sent through this tube into your colon. You may feel that you need to have a bowel movement. You may also feel pressure or cramping in your stomach.

A fluoroscope machine lets the radiologist see the barium as it flows into your colon. After the first set of X-rays is done, you will be asked to go to the bathroom to get rid of the barium. Then more X-rays will be taken of your empty colon. As the X-rays are being taken, the radiologist will ask you to move into different positions. They may also press down on your stomach.


Be sure to tell the healthcare provider and radiology tech if:

  • You may be pregnant

  • You have any medical conditions

  • You take any prescription or over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, or supplements

  • You are allergic to any medicines, dyes (contrast material), or foods

  • You are severely constipated or have a blockage in your bowel

  • You have had a colonoscopy in the past 4 weeks

How to get ready for the exam

2 days before the exam

To get ready for this test, your colon must be as empty as possible. To do this:

  • Eat light meals on these days. Don't have milk or dairy products.

  • You can have clear liquids as desired.

1 day before the exam

  • You can have only clear liquids. Don't have any solid food or dairy products.

  • Don't drink anything after midnight.

  • You may need to take a strong laxative, suppository, or enema to help empty your colon. This causes loose stools that will stop by the next afternoon or evening.

Day of the exam

  • Don't eat or drink anything before the exam.

  • You can take your usual oral prescription medicines with small sips of water, unless instructed otherwise by your healthcare provider.

After the exam

  • Sometimes you may get constipated after a barium enema. If this happens to you, take a mild laxative. If that doesn’t help, contact your healthcare provider.

  • Drink extra liquids to replace what you lost and to flush your system.

  • You will pass barium mixed with stool for 1 or 2 days.

  • Eat lightly after the exam.

  • Take your regular medicines, unless directed otherwise by your healthcare provider.

Symptoms after a barium enema

You may not have any problems or symptoms. But you can have:

  • Bloating and nausea

  • Pain in your abdomen

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Severe cramping, pain, or swelling in your abdomen

  • No bowel movement after 2 days, especially if you took a laxative

  • Not passing gas

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Vomiting that happens several times

Online Medical Reviewer: Neil Grossman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2022
© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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