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Barium Enema



  • A barium enema is an X-ray taken of the belly after barium is inserted through the rectum to show the lining of the walls of the large intestine (colon) and rectum and any abnormal areas.
  • Ask your child’s healthcare provider how and when you will get your child’s test results.


What is a barium enema?

A barium enema is an X-ray taken of the belly after barium is inserted through the rectum to show the lining of the walls of the large intestine (colon) and rectum and any abnormal areas. Barium is a chalky white liquid that coats your child’s digestive tract and shows up well on the X-ray.

This procedure is also called a lower gastrointestinal (GI) exam or lower GI.

When is it used?

This X-ray with barium is used to look at your child’s lower intestine for:

  • Causes of constipation such as Hirschsprung disease or a blockage in the intestine
  • Polyps, which are growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum
  • Inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Cancer

How do I prepare my child for this procedure?

  • Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any food, medicine, or other allergies such as latex.
  • Tell the provider if your child has had any recent exams of the intestines such as a colonoscopy or barium swallow.
  • Your child may or may not need to take regular medicines the day of the procedure. Tell the healthcare provider about all medicines and supplements your child takes. Some products may increase your child’s risk of side effects. Ask the healthcare provider if your child needs to avoid taking any medicine or supplements before the procedure.
  • Tell your child’s healthcare provider if your older child is or may be pregnant or is breastfeeding.
  • You will be given instructions for clearing bowel movements from your child’s intestines. Be sure to complete the bowel preparation as instructed, including what types of food and drink your child can have in the days leading up to the procedure. The exam may not be done or may have to be repeated if your child’s intestine still has bowel movement in it.
  • Follow any instructions your child’s healthcare provider may give you.
  • Ask any questions you have before the procedure. You should understand what your child’s healthcare provider is going to do. You have the right to make decisions about your child’s healthcare and to give permission for any tests or procedures.

What happens after the procedure?

The barium enema results will be reviewed by a radiologist and reported to your child’s healthcare provider. Ask your child’s provider how and when you will get your child’s test results. Do not assume the results are normal if you do not hear from your child’s health care provider or the place that did your child’s barium enema. Radiologists are doctors who have special training in reading X-ray films and other types of images.

Your child will go to the restroom to pass the barium and any air that was in your child’s intestine. Your child may feel weak and dizzy after the procedure.

Your child’s bowel movements may look white or gray as he or she passes the rest of the barium over the next few days. Barium can cause constipation. Unless your child’s provider tells you otherwise, make sure that your child drinks plenty of water and eats foods high in fiber until all the barium passes. It is normal to have gas and mild cramps for a few hours after the procedure.

Follow your child’s healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask the provider:

  • If there are activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

What are the risks of this procedure?

Every procedure or treatment has risks. Rare risks of this procedure include:

  • The barium could cause a blockage in the intestines that can cause belly pain, nausea, and vomiting. A blockage can be life-threatening.
  • The wall of the intestine may become irritated or tear if it is weak. If this happens, your child may need surgery.

Ask the healthcare provider how these risks apply to your child. Be sure to discuss any other questions or concerns that you may have.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2022.1 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2022-02-07
Last reviewed: 2021-10-04
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2022 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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