Air Contrast Barium Enema and Preparation

ExitCare ImageAn air contrast barium enema is a test that evaluates the large intestine, bowel, and rectum. It is then used to search for abnormal growths (polyps, tumors) or other diseases. It differs from a routine barium enema because air is also introduced into the large intestine after barium has been introduced and partially eliminated. Air acts as a contrast agent to give more detailed X-rays. The added detail is sometimes helpful when examining X-rays. The addition of air to the procedure may help the radiologist to see details not seen with the plain barium enema. It is especially helpful in seeing detail in the lining of the colon. This procedure is also called a double contrast barium enema.


  • Allergies.

  • Medications taken including herbs, eyedrops, over-the-counter medications, and creams.

  • Use of steroids (by mouth or creams).

  • Previous problems with anesthetics or numbing medicine.

  • Possibility of pregnancy, if this applies.

  • History of blood clots.

  • History of bleeding or blood problems.

  • Previous surgery.

  • Previous or existing colon problems.

  • Other health problems.

Let your technologist know if you were unable to complete the preparations for your test or unable to follow the dietary instructions.


ExitCare ImageFollow all instructions for test preparation. A liquid diet may be required for a few days prior to testing. No food is allowed the night before the test. Suppositories, laxatives, or an enema may be required prior to testing. Instructions will be given. Follow instructions carefully. This will clean out your colon and improve the quality of your X-rays. Arrive 60 minutes early to check in or as directed. An air contrast barium enema takes about 1 hour.


A small tube is inserted into your rectum. This has a tip on the end with a balloon that can be inflated. The balloon is used to help you retain the barium that is put into your colon prior to the X-rays. You will feel the need to go to the bathroom. However, the balloon will help prevent this while X-rays are being taken. The barium outlines the inside of the colon while X-rays are taken. During your exam you will be told to shift position and hold your breath briefly. Some gentle pressure may be applied to your belly (abdomen). All of this is done to obtain better X-rays. Following some initial X-rays, you will be allowed to go the bathroom. Air will then be put into the colon through the tube to obtain even more detailed X-rays if necessary. If you develop a strong urge to go to the bathroom, take slow deep breaths to relax. You may leave when the technologist informs you that you are through.

For your comfort during the test:

  • Relax as much as possible.

  • Try to follow your technologist's instructions to speed up the test.


  • You may resume normal activities.

  • Call your caregiver as instructed.

  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat enough fruits and vegetables to keep your stools soft. Your stools may appear lighter for a few days following the test.

  • Ask when your test results will be ready. Make sure you get your test results.


  • You become lightheaded.

  • You faint.

  • You pass blood from the rectum.

  • You develop belly (abdominal) pain or a fever.