What are the Risks of Doing Barium Enema

Barium enema is a diagnostic method used to obtain clear images of the colon by utilizing liquid barium metal, which acts as a contrast agent for X-rays. Administered via enema, the thick viscous barium solution spreads throughout the colon, coating its crevices and folds to provide a detailed outline for X-ray imaging. This procedure, typically lasting between twenty minutes to half an hour, requires minimal preparation.

Despite its simplicity, barium enema carries certain risks that patients should be aware of beforehand:

  1. Bowel Perforation: Although rare, bowel perforation—a tiny tear in the bowel—can occur, particularly in individuals with existing bowel inflammation.
  2. Radiation Exposure: Patients with a history of multiple radiation exposures should consider alternative diagnostic methods, as barium enema involves X-ray exposure which may pose risks.
  3. Allergies: Patients allergic to latex or barium must inform their healthcare provider before the procedure to avoid complications. Alternative materials can be used if allergies are identified.
  4. Chemical Peritonitis: Infection of the abdominal cavity lining, known as chemical peritonitis, may occur during the procedure due to various factors.
  5. Stomach Cramps: Post-procedure, patients may experience varying degrees of stomach cramps, causing discomfort for a temporary period.
  6. Reaction to Medication: Muscle relaxants administered during the procedure may cause allergic reactions, occasionally leading to blurred vision. Patients experiencing such reactions should avoid driving until symptoms subside.
  7. Constipation: Following the procedure, constipation may occur, requiring increased fluid intake and a fruit-rich diet to flush out residual barium. Persistent constipation should be reported to the physician if it lasts over three days.

While barium enema is a straightforward diagnostic tool for colon-related diseases, patients should discuss all potential risks with their healthcare provider prior to undergoing the procedure.