What is a barium enema?
A barium enema involves placing liquid barium sulphate, which shows up on x-rays, into your large bowel (colon). The liquid lines your large bowel and the x-rays can show if there is a problem (see figure 1).
Are there any alternatives to a barium enema?
A colonoscopy is a procedure to look at the inside of the large bowel using a flexible telescope (colonoscope).
A virtual colonoscopy (also called computerised tomography colonography) uses x-rays to produce 2D and 3D images of the colon and rectum.
What does the procedure involve?
The procedure usually takes about half an hour.
The radiologist will place a tube into your rectum (back passage) and pass some barium liquid through the tube and into your bowel.
The radiologist will take x-rays while you are in different positions. Once they have enough x-rays they will remove the tube.
What complications can happen?
- Radiation exposure
- Discomfort and cramping
- Making a hole in the bowel
- Air or barium embolus
- Blurred vision
- Allergic reaction
How soon will I recover?
You will be monitored for a short while and then you should be able to go home.
The results of the x-rays will not be available for a few days so a member of the healthcare team may ask you to come back to the clinic for these results.
A barium enema is usually a safe and effective way of finding out if you have a problem with your large bowel.
Paying for your procedure
Barium enema costs are covered by most medical insurance policies, but please check with your insurer first. If you are paying for your own procedure the cost will be explained and confirmed in writing when you book the procedure. Ask the hospital for a quote beforehand, and ensure that this includes the surgeon’s fee, the anaesthetist’s fee and the hospital charge for your procedure.
Author: Dr David Baldwin MD FRCP
Illustrations: Hannah Ravenscroft RM
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