Double Contrast Barium Enema

Also known as the colon X-ray, a double contrast barium enema is a diagnostic test performed to detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine or the colon.

The process involves filling the colon with a barium-containing contrast material that will make the intestines visible on X-ray.

The liquid barium is poured into the anus with the use of a small tube.

With the barium blocking the X-rays, the barium-filled colon shows up clearly on the X-ray film.

The Need

This medical examination is conducted for the following purposes:

  1. To examine abdominal symptoms that include unexplained weight loss, abnormal bowel habits, and anemia.

  2. To detect and identify inflammation in the intestinal walls brought about by bowel disorders such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.

  3. To identify problems with the large intestine’s structure and detect narrowed areas, sacs, or pockets.

  4. To check for colon cancer or colon polyps.

  5. To correct a child’s small intestine abnormally protruding into the larger intestine, a condition known as ileocolic intussusception.

The Preparation

Prior to the examination, you need to completely clean out your colon of fecal matter.

Your doctor will normally advice you to take some laxatives and possibly an enema before the test.

You will also be advised to eat a certain diet and take clear liquids that may include plain water, broth, coffee without milk or cream, and any juice without pulp.

Before the procedure, it is imperative to inform your doctor if you are or might be pregnant, are allergic to barium and/or latex, and if you've had an upper digestive barium test done recently.

This information will be necessary to determine whether you are fit to take the test.

The Process

The single-contrast study and the air-contrast study are the two types of barium enemas that you may experience.

The former requires the colon to be filled with barium, a process that outlines and reveals abnormalities in the intestine.

The latter is done by filling the colon with barium and then taking it out. This will leave a thin layer of barium on the colon wall.

After which, the colon is filled with air, which results in a more detailed view of the colon’s inner surface, allowing the doctor to see smaller abnormalities such as polyps.

The Results

A negative result in a barium enema means no abnormalities have been found in your colon.

A positive result, on the other hand, indicates an abnormality in your colon that will need further attention.

Depending on the results, you will be advised for additional examinations for the abnormality to be thoroughly examined, treated, and removed.


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