Barium Enema Introduction
A barium enema is a diagnostic test. During the test, the doctor puts a contrast material called barium into the rectum. Enough barium is given to fill up the colon (large intestines). A plain x-ray of the abdomen is then taken.
By filling the entire cavity of the colon, the doctor can see the contour of the colon's lining. Polyps, diverticula (outpocketings), ulcers, fistula (openings), crypts (certain types of cavities), and inflammatory changes can be detected. Masses (such as tumors) are specifically of interest because this test is often used to screen for colon cancer.
- Primarily, barium enema is used to exclude diseases of the colon such as colorectal cancer. Over the years, barium enema has been used to evaluate a wide range of other conditions such as these:
- Although the barium enema was originally intended as a way to diagnose disease, its role has changed. Doctors use the test as a screening tool for certain people who are at risk for colorectal cancer.
- Also, a barium enema is used in some cases to treat a condition. The pressure exerted when the barium is put into the colon often results in resolving an intussusception (a telescoping effect in which the colon folds in on itself)—a condition seen in infants.
- A modified test, the double-contrast barium enema, has been developed in order to see the mucous membrane in the colon better. This is achieved by using a fluoroscope (a machine for viewing the internal structure) and by manipulating the position of the person and the amount of barium and air that is introduced.
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
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