X-Rays: Using a contrasting agent

Barium meal and Barium Enema

A barium meal is an x-ray examination of the stomach and your oesophagus (gullet). Often pictures of the first part of the small intestine (the duodenum) are also taken.

For the test to be successful the stomach should be as empty as possible and so the patient will probably be asked not to eat or drink anything for six hours before the examination.

The patient will be asked to swallow some fizzy tablets or granules, with a little water. These will expand the stomach with gas which makes it easier to get a clear view of things. It is very important that the patient does not belch once s/he has taken these. Sometimes s/he if also given an injection of a drug to relax the stomach and stop it moving while the x-rays are taken (this can cause some blurring of vision for an hour or so and if this happens it is best not to drive).

The patient is then given a cup of 'barium' to drink. It is actually barium sulphate (a radiopaque - contrast medium) and the mixture used normally contains defoaming agents and a mixture of constituents that make it have excellent coating characteristics. It is often fruit flavoured and is not at all unpleasant. The barium shows up on the x-rays as it strongly absorbs X-rays and therefore outlines the gullet and stomach in the X-ray picture.

A number of x-ray pictures will then be taken. This is completely painless.

The examination is usually completed within 30 minutes.

A barium enema is an x-ray examination which involves filling the large intestine with barium through a tube inserted into the rectum. It is similar to the meal - just inserted into the body the other way round!

The patient can eat and drink quite normally once the test is completed. The barium will be passed out with your bowel motions during the next few days, it may make motions paler in colour than normal.

The results of the examination will usually be available a few days later.