What are the risks and potential complications of an enema?  

Complications after a barium enema are uncommon, but any procedure involves risks and potential complications. Complications may become serious in some cases. Complications can develop during the procedure or your recovery. 

Risks and potential complications of any type of enema include: 

  • Dehydration 
  • Puncture of the colon

Risks and potential complications of a barium enema include:

  • Barium impaction, which is an obstruction of the colon caused by the barium. This is a rare event.
  • Dehydration due to taking enemas and laxatives before the procedure
  • Puncture of the colon
  • Small risk of cancer due to radiation exposure. Your care team follows strict standards for X-ray techniques and will use the lowest amount of radiation possible to produce the best images. Your doctor will generally not order an X-ray if you are pregnant due to the danger of radiation to an unborn child. It is important to tell your doctor if there is any chance that you are pregnant.

How do I prepare for my enema?

You are an important member of your own healthcare team. The steps you take before your enema can improve your comfort and help obtain the most accurate tests results for a barium enema. 

You can prepare for a barium enema by:

  • Answering all questions about your medical history and medications. This includes prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal treatments, and vitamins. It is a good idea to carry a current list of your medical conditions, medications, and allergies at all times.
  • Completely cleansing your intestines as directed by your doctor. This may include a combination of enemas, laxatives, and not eating solid foods or drinking on the day or night before the procedure.
  • Taking or stopping medications exactly as directed. This may include taking your usual medications with a small sip of water.
  • Telling your doctor if there is any possibility of pregnancy

Questions to ask your doctor

Having a therapeutic or barium enema can be stressful. It is common for patients to forget some of their questions during a brief doctor’s office visit. You may also think of other questions after your appointment. Contact your doctor with concerns and questions before an enema and between appointments. 

It is also a good idea to bring a list of questions to your appointments. Questions can include:

  • Why do I need an enema? Are there any other options for diagnosing or treating my condition?
  • Can my enema be self-administered?
  • How long will procedure barium enema take? When can I go home?
  • When and how will I receive the results of my barium enema test?
  • What other tests or treatments might I need?
  • When should I follow up with you?
  • How should I contact you? Ask for numbers to call during and after regular hours.

What can I expect after my enema?

Knowing what to expect after an enema can help you get back to your everyday life as soon as possible.

How will I feel after the enema?

A therapeutic enema should provide prompt relief of constipation and hard stools. Call you doctor if you do not pass any stool or if you only pass a small amount of stool and still feel constipated.

You may receive a laxative or enema after a barium enema to wash out any remaining barium. You may pass extra gas that was inserted during the procedure. You should not have pain. Tell your doctor or care team if you have discomfort that does not go away quickly or if you are in pain.

It is normal for you to have white-colored stools for a day or two after a barium enema. You may be instructed to drink extra water for 24 hours to keep your stools soft. Call your doctor if you have constipation for more than two days or if you are unable to pass gas.

When can I go home?

Patients usually go home and resume normal activities and diet immediately after an enema, including a barium enema. 

When should I call my doctor?

It is important to keep your follow-up appointments after any type of enema. Contact your doctor for questions and concerns between appointments. Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • Constipation
  • Fever (you should not have any fever after a minor testing procedure)
  • Pain
  • Rectal bleeding, bloody stools, or black tarry stools. Seek immediate medical care if you have any of these symptoms.