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Organs such as your stomach or bowel do not show up very well on a normal X-ray. To closely examine these areas on an X-ray, your consultant may recommend a barium meal or enema.

What happens during a barium meal?

A barium meal takes 10-15 minutes. You may be asked to remove your clothing and change to a hospital gown and robe. A nurse or radiologist will escort you to the X-ray room. You will be asked to drink a measure of barium which is fruit flavoured, thick, white liquid. The technician will advise you how much and how often you should drink throughout the procedure.

The barium coats the lining of the organ being assessed making it easy to examine and X-ray. In some cases you may be asked to swallow a small amount of granules along with the liquid. This medication will create gas in your stomach, just like drinking a fizzy drink. You may also be asked to move or change position or hold your breath while X-rays are taken.

Once the images are taken, you may be asked to wait while the radiologist checks they can be easily read. When this is confirmed you will be able to dress and go home.

What happens during a barium enema?

A barium enema may be used to examine your colon and rectum. Like a barium meal, a liquid is used to highlight the lining of the area being examined. To ensure the barium coats the lining of your bowel it must be totally clear. You will be given strong laxatives to rinse out your bowel before coming for the procedure. Please follow any instructions carefully as you will not be able to have your test if your bowel is not empty.

A barium enema usually takes 15-30 minutes. You will be asked to remove your clothing and change to a hospital gown and robe. A nurse or radiologist will escort you to the X-ray room. You will be asked to lie on an X-ray table. Using a small plastic tube, the radiologist will insert barium via your rectum into your bowel. They may also pump air or gas into your bowel to make it easier to see. You may feel slightly uncomfortable and feel like you need to open your bowels, but it’s important to hold in the liquid and air while the X-rays are taken. You may be asked to move or change position. Once the X-rays are taken the radiologist will remove the tube from your rectum.

After a barium enema

You may feel slight cramping for a short time after this procedure. Immediately after the procedure you will want to go to the toilet to pass the barium liquid.

When you feel ready you can get dressed and go home.

At home after a barium meal or enema

Drink plenty of fluids to help flush any barium from your system. To prevent altered bowel movements or constipation eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and high fibre foods.

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