A barium enema, or lower gastrointestinal (GI) examination, is an
X-ray examination of the
large intestine (colon and rectum). The test is used to help diagnose diseases
and other problems that affect the large intestine. To make the intestine
visible on an X-ray picture, the colon is filled with a
contrast material containing barium. This is done by
pouring the contrast material through a tube inserted into the anus. The barium
blocks X-rays, causing the barium-filled colon to show up clearly on the X-ray
There are two types of barium enemas.
- In a
single-contrast study , the colon is filled with
barium, which outlines the intestine and reveals large
- In a double-contrast or
air-contrast study , the colon is first filled with
barium and then the barium is drained out, leaving only a thin layer of barium
on the wall of the colon. The colon is then filled with air. This provides a
detailed view of the inner surface of the colon, making it easier to see
narrowed areas (strictures),
diverticula, or inflammation.
In some cases, the single-contrast study may be preferred
for specific medical reasons or for older people who may not be able to
tolerate the time-consuming and somewhat more uncomfortable double-contrast
study. But if the results are not clear, a double-contrast study may also be
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Jerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology
April 25, 2011
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