A barium enema is an X-ray examination of the large intestine and rectum (back passage). You may have this performed if you are anaemic or are bleeding from the rectum or if you have had a change in bowel habit, abdominal pain or diarrhoea. It is normally carried out in the X-ray department and can last between 30-60 minutes.
You will be asked to lie on your left side on a couch with the X-ray camera above you. You will have been given a strong laxative 2 days prior to the procedure and asked to eat a special low-fibre diet to reduce the amount of waste material and gas going through your intestines. A tube will then be gently inserted into your rectum and a white liquid containing barium will be passed through this tube, followed by some air, which improves the visibility of the wall of the intestine. You may feel some discomfort but it should not be painful.
You will be asked to change position during the procedure so that the whole of the large intestine becomes coated with barium and a series of X-ray pictures can be taken.
Following the procedure you may notice your stools are chalky and white for a few days. This is harmless and is caused by the barium. You should drink as much fluid as possible for 2 days after the procedure to avoid constipation.
The results of your test should be with you within a fortnight, if not sooner.