Barium Enema

  • Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Barium enema series facts

  • A barium enema (lower GI series) is an X-ray procedure used to define the anatomy of the large intestine (colon) and the rectum.
  • A barium enema involves filling the colon and rectum with a white liquid material (barium) often followed by air (double-contrast barium enema).
  • The risks of barium enema includes discomfort, radiation exposure, and perforation of the colon.
  • Women who are or may be pregnant should notify the doctor requesting the procedure and the radiology staff because of the risk of radiation exposure to the fetus.

What is a barium enema series?

A lower GI series, also known as a barium enema, barium enema procedure, barium enema X-ray or double-contrast barium enema, is an X-ray test in which a white liquid, called barium, is infused through a catheter (tube) inserted through the anus and into the rectum until it fills the large bowel (colon). X-ray films of the colon then are taken so that the outline of the colon can be seen. The barium enema and double contrast barium enema are used to define normal and abnormal anatomy of the colon and rectum. Colon and rectal abnormalities that can be detected include diverticulosis, polyps, dilation of the colon, Hirschsprung disease in infants, and colon cancers.

What are the risks of a lower barium enema?

Distention of the colon is uncomfortable, but only a few patients find it very painful. Any X-ray test procedure involves some risk of radiation exposure. The radiation exposure is minimized by standard techniques which have been developed and approved by national and international radiology committees and councils. All radiology technologists are certified by national certifying boards.

Women who are or may be pregnant should notify the doctor requesting the procedure and the radiology staff, as there is a potential risk of harm to the fetus with any radiation exposure. Complications of barium enema examination are rare. The tip of the enema catheter or distention of the colon can penetrate the wall of the colon and give rise to a localized infection (abscess) or peritonitis (generalized infection of the abdominal cavity). This usually occurs only when excessive pressure is used to infuse the barium or there is already a diseased colon that is weakened.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/5/2015

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