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Barium Enema (cont.)


Next Steps after a Barium Enema Procedure

After you leave the hospital or surgical center, expect your next bowel movement to contain some of the contrast material.

You should watch for abdominal pain, cramping, or vomiting. Call your doctor or seek medical attention at the nearest medical facility if you have severe abdominal symptoms after the barium enema test.

Barium Enema Risks and Side Effects

Aggressive bowel cleansing may cause hypokalemia (low potassium) and/or dehydration in some patients; the elderly are at higher risk for these complications than otherwise healthy adults.

Occasionally, the barium that remains in the colon can harden into clumps and has the potential to cause constipation or even impaction (intestinal blockage). This risk is reduced by taking plenty of fluids by mouth after the test; some radiologists recommend a post-test laxative or enema for patients.

Rarely, small clumps of barium retained in the bowel, termed barium granulomas, may cause inflammation in the colon.

During the barium enema procedure, the contrast material may rarely, perforate the colon and spill into the abdominal cavity. The lining of the abdominal cavity may become infected (the condition is called chemical peritonitis). The colon may narrow and become blocked.

Because of these possible problems, certain people (individuals with weakened bowel walls that may occur with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease) may not be good candidates for this procedure.

When to Seek Medical Care for Large Bowel or Other Intestinal Problems

  • Call your doctor if you have any of these problems; if the problem(s) are severe, go to an emergency department that has consulting gastroenterologists (most large hospitals have):
  • If you pass dark material (blood clots) or have fresh bleeding in your stools, go to a hospital's emergency department.

Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine


Keyhole Surgery Center. Diagnoses – Colonoscopy/ Barium Enema.

Medscape. CT Colonography: What the Gastroenterologist Needs to Know.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Lower GI Series.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/30/2015

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