Air Contrast Barium Enema

This is a test which uses X-rays and a special kind of enema solution to take pictures of the colon or large bowel, which is the lower part of the intestines. The test shows the doctor if there is anything wrong inside the colon and how well it is working.

An air contrast barium enema is especially good at finding causes of rectal bleeding.

Before you come to the hospital, explain to your child what will happen. For young children, use simple words and explain only shortly before the test. 

On the day before the test, your child may have nothing but clear liquids all day. Your child should not eat any solid food, and may drink only clear liquids. Clear liquids include water, broth, clear juices such as apple, cranberry and fruit punch, Kool-Aid or soft drinks. If your child is taking medicine ordered by a doctor, give it at the scheduled times. Milk, chewing gum, hard candy or mints should not be given to your child.

Before the test, your child will need to drink two doses of an over-the-counter laxative such as magnesium citrate, which can be purchased at a pharmacy or drug store. If your child will be coming to Cincinnati Children's as an outpatient for this test, give the magnesium citrate at 3 pm (or after school) on the day before the test, and again at bedtime the night before the test. Follow the directions below for the amount to give.

Child's AgeDose
Under 1 yearNo laxative
1 - 3 years1½ ounces
3 - 5 years2½ ounces
6 - 8 years3 ounces
9 - 12 years4 ounces
13 - 18 years5 ounces

On the day of the test, your child should not eat or drink anything for 4 hours before the test. 

During the test, your child will lie on the X-ray table. Your child will be given an enema of special liquid called barium. After this enema, some of the barium will be drained out and an enema of air will be given. The barium outlines the child's colon on the X-rays. After the enema is given, the X-ray technologist or doctor (radiologist) will take X-rays of the child's belly.

The test may be uncomfortable, but he / she will need to lie still on the X-ray table. If your child is unable to lie still, our staff will assist your child in holding still. This test lasts about 30 minutes but sometimes longer. The X-ray technologist will keep you informed.

You are encouraged to stay with your child during the test. Children are often more cooperative and less apprehensive when a loved one is with them. If you are pregnant, you will have to leave the room for the pictures. It is easier to have another caregiver watch the child's siblings so you can be with your child.

It is possible that during the procedure your child may experience some discomfort. Please tell the doctor, nurse or technologist if pain occurs so it can be evaluated.  

The technologist will let you know when all the X-ray pictures are taken. Your child may return to normal daily activities. Results of the test will be sent to your child's doctor's office within 24 hours. He / she will contact you about the results.

After the barium enema test, it is helpful for your child to drink plenty of liquids to help pass the barium out of his / her colon. Give your child liquids like juices, water, Kool-Aid or fruit punch.

It is possible that your child's stool may appear to be whitish in color for 24-48 hours after the test due to the barium in the colon. Whitish stools are not cause for concern. Encouraging your child to drink fluids will allow his / her stool to return to normal within a short time.

Last Updated 06/2012