A lower gastrointestinal series, also called a barium enema, is a medical procedure used to examine and diagnose problems with the human colon (large intestine). X-ray pictures are taken while barium sulfate fills the colon via the rectum.
Thorough cleaning of the large intestine is necessary for accurate pictures. Test preparations include a clear liquid diet , tablets of a laxative, and warm water enemas to clear out any stool particles.
Barium enemas are most commonly used to check bowel health; they can help diagnose and evaluate the extent of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Polyps can be seen, though not removed during the exam like with a colonoscopy— they may be cancerous. Other problems such as diverticulosis (small pouches formed on the colon wall that can become inflamed) and intussusception can be found (and in certain cases the test itself can treat intussusception). If the picture is normal a functional cause such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may be considered.
In a healthy colon, barium should fill the colon uniformly and show normal bowel contour, patency (should be freely open), and position.
Additional conditions under which the test may be performed:
- CMV gastroenteritis/colitis.
- intestinal obstruction
- Hirschsprung’s disease
- intussusception (children)