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What is a Double Contrast Barium Enema?

written by: Kathy Foust • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 4/5/2011

Having an enema done can be uncomfortable enough without the inner turmoil of trying to understand why it's being done. Read this article so you can be informed and relax a bit about having a double contrast barium enema done.

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    What is a Double Contrast Barium Enema?

    If you've ever had an enema done then you know an enema happens when a liquid is inserted into the intestines through the anus. Taking things a step further is when a single or double contrast barium enema is done.

    Barium is used because the intestines are looked at through xrays and barium happens to block xrays. This means when a doctor looks at an xray, the area with barium in it is highly contrasted to the other areas of the body. The double contrast barium enema is a procedure where the barium is placed in the intestines by using an enema. The barium is then drained out and only a small portion of it coats the intestines. Imagine that you filled your hand with red dye. You could see the area that you are holding, but you would not be able to see the details of your hand. If you poured the dye out but did not rinse your hands, the dye would filter into the cracks of your palm, making them very easy to see in contrast to your skin. This is similar to what the barium does in your intestines.

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    Why is it Prescribed?

    If your doctor suspects that there is something wrong with your intestines, he or she will want to take a closer look at them. One option would be surgery, but no one wants to go that route unless they absolutely have to.

    The double contrast barium enema is given when the doctor wants to see specific details of your intestines such as polyps, inflammation, ulceration or lesions that may indicate cancer. This procedure provides your doctor with a detailed look at your intestines using the contrast method.

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    Preparing

    To prepare for the double contrast barium enema, the following steps should be taken.

    • Alert your doctor if you have recently had barium put into your body for any other procedure.
    • Alert your doctor if you have an allergy to barium or latex since latex is often used when performing an enema.
    • Consume only clear fluids for about 3 days before the procedure.
    • Use laxatives to clear the colon the day before the procedure.
    • You will probably have a water enema before the barium enema to make sure that there is nothing left to be cleaned out before the barium is put into the intestines.

    And just breathe. This is not a life threatening procedure and your doctor will probably tell you what he is looking for before the procedure begins. Feel free to ask questions or voice any concerns you have. After all, it's your body.

    References: familydoctor.org