Barium is a chalky liquid which is used by radiologists to outline parts of the digestive tract on x-rays. It is x-ray detectable and makes the x-ray image of the digestive tract much clearer to see and is an aid to diagnosing your problem. The patient is given the barium either to drink which will show the oesophagus ( the tube your food travels down into the stomach) the stomach and the small intestine or it can be given rectally as an enema to outline the large bowel.
You will have been sent for a barium enema because you may have been suffering from changed bowel habits i.e.
- Low stomach pains
- Bloating feelings
- Alternating diarrhoea and constipation
- Blood in your bowel movements
- Unexplained weight loss
For the bowels involves eating only a light diet, fluids and taking laxatives which the staff will give you. You will be provided with written instructions of what you can eat and drink and when to take the laxatives. If you are a diabetic please ensure you ask the staff for any special instructions. The laxative is very strong and it is recommended to stay close to a toilet. The preparation for the procedure is very important if the bowels are not clear the procedure will not be done and will have to be rescheduled.
The risks of the procedure are few; the bowel may perforate and the barium might leak into the abdominal cavity, this happens extremely rarely. The radiation dose you receive will be the same as you would naturally be exposed to over a three year period. You may be given a drug to relax the bowels during the procedure; if you suffer from heart disease or glaucoma you should inform the staff of this.
Will be done in the X-ray department and will normally be done as an outpatient procedure. If you believe you may be pregnant you should inform the staff prior to the commencement of the investigation. When you arrive in the department you will be shown to a cubical and shown the location of the nearest available toilet, you will then be asked to remove all your clothing and put on a gown, all metal objects, watches and jewellery should be removed.
- You will be made comfortable lying on the X-ray table with a blanket over you
- You will be asked to turn onto your side; a soft rectal tube will be passed a small way into your rectum.
- The barium liquid will then be introduced slowly the radiologist will then ask you to change positions on the table to coat the inside of the bowel with the liquid.
- Air may also be introduced into the bowel via the same rectal tube this gives the radiologist a clearer picture of the bowel.
- This procedure is more uncomfortable than painful; you may experience stomach cramps, and fullness.
- You may be given an injection to relax the muscles of the bowel wall, this may cause blurring of your vision, but it will pass.
- You will have X-rays taken of you in various positions
- The procedure can take approximately 20 minutes although you could be in the department for longer, waiting for x-rays and visiting the toilet.
- When the procedure is over you will be able to go to the toilet. Some but not all of the barium will be passed. Your stools when eliminated will be white as this is the colour of the barium, your stools will continue to be slightly pale for the next few bowel movements.
- The remainder of the barium will naturally be excreted in your bowel movements; however it can cause constipation so it is advised that you drink plenty of fluids and eat a high fibre diet for the next few days.
The results of the scan will be sent to your GP or to the consultant who referred you. And your results will be discussed with you when you return for your follow up appointment.