A barium enema, which is also known as lower gastrointestinal exam, is a special test which uses an X-ray examination for an internal view of colon. It includes the process in which barium sulfate is inserted into the colon through rectum. The powdery barium sticks to the lining of colon and appears as white in the X-ray. This method of barium enema is called single contrast technique. While, the double contrast barium enema technique includes air and barium both to be inserted in the colon through rectum to view the intestine.
The purpose of a barium enema is to help diagnose various diseases of the colon including colorectal cancer, tumors, rectal bleeding and other colon issues. Mostly, physicians use the double contrast enema to detect colon polyps, low-level inflammation and other various areas of concern. It is easier to use barium enema technique rather than colonoscopy for those above 50 for the periodic screening of colon cancer. If the patient is having any symptoms of change in bowel movement, abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, lower gastrointestinal bleeding, or constant constipation then it is suggested to consult a physician soon for a colonoscopy or other diagnostic exam.
Barium Enema Procedure
During barium enema preparation the patient is asked to take a prescribed diet by the physician which excludes the intake of solid and dairy food for 24 hours before the test. You will be asked to drink large quantities of water and fluid in order to clear the bowel from any fecal material which may create a hindrance during the test procedure. The patient is dressed up in a full gown before the procedure and during this test; there is a strong need of collaboration from the patient’s side especially when the enema is being injected into the rectum.
When the doctor starts procedure, the patient is asked to lay down on the examination table. The patient will be asked to lay on their side and get as comfortable as they possible can. After that, the barium enema is administered and the fluid is inserted into the colon through the rectum. You will be asked to tighten your anus so that the fluid will stay inside the colon. A radiologist then takes hundreds of X-rays of the colon filled with barium.
The patient may be asked to change the position on the table if required so that the barium fluid can easily adjust in the different portions of colon for an enhanced view. After this first stage has completed, the patient is then asked to pass the barium fluid through the rectum completely. When the patient has excreted the fluid, they are then brought back to the table. This time air is pumped into the bowel so that an enhanced image of the lining can be taken with the remaining thin film of barium still inside. Here again, the radiologist carries out a session of X-rays.
Barium Enema Effectiveness
A barium enema procedure is quite safe and is a less painful procedure than a colonoscopy but it is strongly recommended to clean the bowel from the remnants of the barium enema when the test is complete. The presence of barium fluid can cause a bowel obstruction, which may create severe discomfort. When undergoing a barium enema, patients should follow some important instructions like drinking large amounts of fluid and water to overcome any dehydration effects. While being slightly easier to withstand over a colonoscopy procedure, the diagnostic view a barium enema gives of the colon is not as detailed and some colon polyps or other areas of concern may be missed. A barium enema would be suggested as part of regular colon cancer screening where no symptoms of colon cancer are present. Should a patient have any colon cancer symptoms then a more precise examination method other than a barium enema may be recommended.
Here is a great video explaining a barium enema procedure.