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What is a barium enema?

A barium enema is an X-ray procedure that examines your colon. The colon, also called the large intestine, is a long, hollow organ in your abdomen. It removes water from digested material and forms feces. A barium enema helps diagnose intestinal symptoms, such as changes in bowel movements, abdominal pain, or rectal bleeding.

A barium enema is also called a lower GI (gastrointestinal tract) series or lower GI tract radiography. It makes still pictures as well as moving images. It uses a special type of X-ray called fluoroscopy. 

The procedure involves putting barium inside the colon through a tube inserted into the rectum. Barium is a chalky metallic contrast material. It illuminates the colon to show detailed images of the inside of the colon. 

A barium enema is only one method used to diagnose colon conditions.  You may have less invasive testing options. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your testing choices before having a barium enema.

Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Jul 4, 2013

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Medical References

  1. Barium Enema Examination. American Society of Radiologic Technologists. http://www.asrt.org/docs/PatientPages/BarEnema_PaPg.pdf
  2. Lower Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract X-ray (Radiography). Radiological Society of North America. http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=lowergi
  3. What is Lower GI Tract X-ray Radiography (Barium Enema)? Barnabas Health. http://www.barnabashealth.org/hospitals/newark_beth_israel/mservices/radiology/sv-diagnostic-barium-...

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