Mercy Regional Health Center
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Barium Enema/Lower GI (LGI)

What is a barium enema?
What happens during the exam?
How should I prepare for the procedure?
What should I wear?
What happens after the test?
What are the risks?
How long does the exam take?
Will I be able to feel the exam?
When is this exam given?


What is a barium enema?
A barium enema is an x-ray that evaluates the health of your large intestine (colon). Another name you may hear for this exam is a "lower GI" (LGI).

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What happens during the exam?
You will be asked to lie down on a table. An initial x-ray may be taken, and then you will be asked to lie on your side. A well-lubricated enema tube is inserted into your rectum. A mixture of barium is allowed to flow through the tube into your colon. The tip of the tube may be inflated to help keep the barium inside. The barium makes it easier to see the colon on the x-ray. Air may be puffed into your colon as well to enhance the x-ray images.
 
A radiologist will use a special x-ray machine called a fluoroscope to take a series of x-rays as the barium moves through your colon. You will be asked to move into different positions to allow a variety of x-ray views of your body. The table may be angled for different views. Pressure may be applied to your stomach to improve the images.
 
The images are viewed on a special TV monitor and captured for the record. You may be asked to hold your breath for short periods to provide a better x-ray image.
 
At the end of the exam, the enema tube will be removed and you will be given a bedpan and helped to the toilet. You should then expel as much of the barium as possible. The doctor may wish to have one or two more x-rays taken after the barium is expelled.

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How should I prepare for the procedure?

  • Your colon must be thoroughly empty to have accurate pictures. You will be prescribed something to clean out your bowels. This may include laxatives, suppositories or an enema. You may be given a special diet for the day before the exam.
  • You cannot eat or drink ANYTHING after midnight the night before your test. This means no breakfast the day of the test.
  • You can usually take your normal medications before the test, but consult with your doctor to be sure.
  • If you are a diabetic, consult with your doctor regarding how to best manage the diet restrictions.
  • It is important to follow your preparation instructions carefully to create the best images possible for your doctor.

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What should I wear?
Most patients are asked to wear a hospital gown. You will also need to remove all jewelry.

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What happens after the test?
You may go back to your normal activities after the test. You should drink plenty of water to help the barium pass through your system. Your stool may look white or light until the remainder of the barium passes.

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What are the risks?
This is an x-ray procedure so you will receive a small dose of radiation, however the exam's benefit is well worth this small exposure.

Women should always inform their doctor if there is any possibility that they are pregnant.

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How long does the exam take?
After you have checked in, it will take about an hour for the exam. Be sure to ask when you can resume eating and restart your normal medication schedule.

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Will I be able to feel the exam?
You will feel some mild to moderate cramping from the enema and any air that is introduced. You will also have a feeling of fullness and the urge to move your bowels. These feelings quickly subside after the test is completed.
 
To increase your comfort, breathe slowly and deeply to relax yourself, and follow staff directions carefully to get through the test more quickly.

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When is this exam given?
A barium enema is used to look at the health of your colon. It may spot non-cancerous polyps, colon cancer, diverticulitis, colitis or twisted loop of bowel.

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