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Having a barium enema

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What is a barium enema? 

This is a test to look at your large intestine.  It involves running barium (a liquid that shows up on X-rays) around the colon and taking a number of X-rays.  The radiographer or radiologist will distend the bowel by pumping in a small amout of air.

How do I prepare for the test?

Your bowel needs to be completely empty before the test.  To do this, you need to follow a careful diet and take the strong laxatives that we prescribe to you.  The radiology department will send you details of what exactly you need to do.

What does a barium enema  involve?

At the start of your test the radiographer will place a small tube into your back passage and using gravity, run the liquid barium into your bowel.  You may feel a little bloated and full at this point.  You need to squeeze tightly on the tube to stop the barium leaking. Sometimes a leak may occur, if it does do not get worried or embarrassed.  We understand.

When there is enough solution in the bowel a small volume of air will be pumped into your bowel.  Whilst this may make you feel full of wind it does allows better pictures to be obtained. 

X-ray pictures will be taken with you lying down and standing up.  The x-ray table will be tilted to help you get into the right positions.  You will be asked to roll over several times during the test to help the barium solution to move around your bowel.  You may be given an injection of a drug (Buscopan) to relax your bowel and make you more comfortable. This injection also relaxes the muscles in your eyes so you may experience some blurred vision.  If you have to drive it is important that you wait until this has settled (30-60 minutes).

Are there complications?

A barium enema does carry certain risks.  Whilst the duration and level of X- rays are kept to a minimum, you do need to be exposed to X-rays for a total of 2-3 minutes.  This means that you are subjected to a quantity of radiation equivalent to the amount we all receive naturally over a period of about 3 years. 

There is also a tiny risk of perforating the bowel.  Fortunately this happens very, very rarely and generally only if there is a problem like severe inflammation of the bowel wall.  If it does happen, you wil  need to undergo emergency surgery


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