More Info: Barium Enema

Important Facts About This Test

  • Barium enema has a high level of accuracy for finding cancers, but only medium accuracy for finding polyps.
  • If the results of this test are abnormal, you would need to have a colonoscopy.
  • There is a very small risk of tearing the bowel (perforation). Out of every 10,000 people who have this test, only one will have a serious complication.
  • A barium enema needs to be done once every 5 years.
  • It is less costly than colonoscopy and virtual colonoscopy, but more costly than flexible sigmoidoscopy. It is covered by Medicare and most insurers.

Getting Ready

  • You must take a laxative and use an enema before the test.
  • You may also be asked to follow a clear liquid diet the day before the test.

During the Test

  • The test is often done at a hospital.
  • A radiologist or technician will use a small tube to insert a mixture of barium and water and then air into the colon. 
  • A series of x-rays will then be taken while lying on a table in several different positions.
  • It takes 30 to 60 minutes to complete.
  • The test may cause some cramping and pressure.

After the Test 

  • You can return to your normal activities after the test is over.
  • You may have some temporary constipation.

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