Barium Enema

What is a barium enema?

A barium enema, also called a contrast enema, is an X-ray study that allows us to look at your child's colon. To do this exam we fill your child's bowel with a liquid “contrast agent” containing barium or iodine. When the bowel is filled with contrast, any abnormalities in its structure become visible on an X-ray.

A barium enema uses  fluoroscopy. This type of X-ray imaging enables doctors to capture real-time, moving images of your child’s bowel, much like an X-ray movie. A radiologist will be present for the exam to analyze the images in real time.

How can I help my child prepare for the exam?

Most children will not need any special preparation before a contrast enema. Your child should wear comfortable clothes on the day of the appointment. Please make childcare arrangements for siblings as they will not be allowed into the exam room.

If preparation is required, your doctor will go over all instructions with you. Preparation may involve an enema to clear the bowel.

Please note that if you are pregnant, you will not be allowed in the room during the exam and may wish to make arrangements to have someone else be with your child.

What will happen during the exam?

Your child will be asked to change into a gown when you arrive for the barium enema. You will be allowed to accompany your child to the exam room.

During the exam we will ask your child to lie on a table below the fluoroscope machine. A radiologist will insert a very small flexible tube into your child’s rectum. We will then fill your child’s bowel with contrast material through this tube. Your child may develop mild, crampy abdominal pain and will feel the need to move their bowels but will be instructed to “hold it” until the test is completed.

While the contrast material is flowing into your child's rectum, your radiologist will move the camera over your child to take the images. We may ask your child to turn from side to side and from stomach to back to help move the contrast through the bowel. This enables us to view its size, shape, and contours more easily.

After we have finished imaging your child's bowel, we’ll remove the tube and ask your child to go to the bathroom or put a diaper on until they have a bowel movement. We may take additional pictures after the bowel movement.

How can I help my child feel comfortable during the exam?

Young children sometimes find the fluoroscope a bit frightening. A doctor will remain in the room with your child explaining the procedure every step of the way.

You may remain with your child in the imaging area during the exam to offer comfort and reassurance. We will ask you to wear a lead apron to protect you from unnecessary exposure to radiation. We can also arrange to have a child life specialist at the appointment to help your child better cope with the stress of this exam.

Are there any risks?

This is an X-ray exam, and your child will be exposed to minimal doses of radiation. We will adjust the amount of radiation to the size of your child.

Sometimes children have a mild reaction to the contrast agent, which can include stomach cramps, diarrhea, or constipation.

After the exam

Your child can immediately resume his/her normal activities after the exam.

A radiologist will analyze the fluoroscopic images and will share the results with the doctor who requested the exam. Your child’s doctor will then discuss the results with you.