What is the test?
A barium enema is an x-ray test used to examine the lower digestive tract (the colon and rectum). Because the colon and rectum are normally not visible on x-rays, you need to temporarily coat their inner surfaces with barium, a liquid that does show up on x-rays. This makes the outline of these organs visible on the x-ray pictures. This test is useful for diagnosing cancers and diverticuli (small pouches that may form in the intestinal wall).
How do I prepare for the test?
Tell your doctor if there is any chance that you might be pregnant. If you have diabetes and take insulin, discuss this with your doctor before the test.
You will be given very specific instructions to ensure that your colon is completely empty before the test. You may be told to eat only a light breakfast and a liquid lunch and dinner (such as broth and fruit juice) on the day before the test. You may also be instructed to drink a large amount of clear liquid between meals and to avoid dairy products. You will need to take a laxative, a medicine that stimulates your intestine to move things through more quickly, so that you have a bowel movement to empty the colon. It is a good idea to stay at home or at least near a bathroom for a few hours after taking the laxative. On the day of the test, do not eat any breakfast.