What is a barium enema test?
A contrast barium enema produces images of the large intestine. It includes the colon and anus.
This test is sometimes called a lower GI series. Its full name is lower gastrointestinal tract radiography.
A doctor may want your child to have this test if they have:
- Problems with bowel movements
- Changes in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight loss
- Stomach pain
A radiologist and radiological technologist perform the test.
This test uses a form of x-ray called fluoroscopy. That means it uses a small amount of ionizing radiation to produce images. The amount of radiation is very small.
The medical benefits outweigh the small amount of radiation exposure. You should discuss any concerns with your child’s care team.
The test also uses a contrast liquid. The liquid is either a milky white substance called barium or a clear liquid containing iodine. The contrast liquid helps the bowel to appear more clearly on the viewing screen.
Fluoroscopy makes it possible to see internal organs in motion. It’s like a “live” X-ray. It allows doctors to see the colon and rectum and how they function.
How to prepare for a barium enema test
To get the best image possible, the colon must be empty. Your child must prepare for a barium enema exam. Follow the instructions based on your child’s age.
What to expect during a barium enema
Here’s what you and your child can expect during the test:
- A radiology staff member will talk with you about why your child needs a barium enema. They will explain the procedure, too.
- The staff member will help your child onto the x-ray table. Your child will lie on his or her stomach or side. Infants and young children may use a special device to help them stay still.
- The technologist or radiologist will insert a small tube into the rectum. There are different sizes of tubes according to size and age.
- The technologist will use something to keep the tube in place. It might be tape or a small, inflated balloon. The tube connects to a bag containing the contrast liquid.
- The tube will feel uncomfortable. It may make your child feel like they need to have a bowel movement. There could be some cramping. These feelings will only last a short time.
- The radiologist will move the x-ray machine, also known as “fluoro tower,” over your child. The contrast liquid will flow through the tube.
- The technologist will gently move your child from side to side to get good images.
- After the test, the technologist will remove the tube and allow your child to go to the bathroom. The team may then take more images.
The test usually takes about 30 minutes.
Details to take care of before a barium enema test
These tips can help you make sure everything is in order before your child’s test:
- You may need to talk with your insurance company to find out how much it will pay.
- Tell the medical team about:
- Any medications your child takes, including over-the-counter ones
- Allergies, especially to contrast liquid (likely either contain barium or iodine)
- Be sure your child wears loose, comfortable clothing.
- Allow plenty of time to get to the center. You should be on-time for your appointment. It’s better to be a few minutes early.
- Talk to your child about the test and what will happen. Child life specialists can help.
- Bring activities in case the waiting period is long.
What to do after the test
The radiologist will interpret the results and send a report to the doctor who ordered the test. A member of your child’s care team will share results at the next appointment.