This information will help you prepare for your contrast enema at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK).

A contrast enema is an x-ray exam of the colon (large intestine). It is done with barium or an iodine contrast solution called iohexol (Omnipaque®), air, or a combination of these. The contrast makes the colon easier to see on an x-ray. 

Before Your Procedure

You will need to clean your colon before your contrast enema. This is called a bowel preparation. If you're an inpatient in the hospital before your contrast enema, your floor nurse will give you the bowel preparation. If you will be coming to the hospital for your barium enema, please purchase the following supplies a few days ahead of time:

  • Polyethelene glycol (MiraLAX®). You will need 1 bottle containing 238 grams.
  • Gatorade® (a light color, not red or purple). You will need 2 (32-ounce) bottles.
  • Bisacodyl (Dulcolax®) 5 mg tablets. You will need 4 tablets.

The Day Before Your Procedure

Clear liquid diet

You will follow a clear liquid diet the day before your procedure. Be sure to drink plenty of liquids other than water, coffee, and tea. You will need the calories from these liquids so that you don't feel faint.

 

Drink

Do Not Drink

Soups

  • Clear broth or bouillon
  • Clear consommé
  • Clear packaged vegetable, chicken, or beef broth-mix
  • Any products with particles of dried food or seasoning

Sweets

  • Gelatin (such as Jello®)
  • Flavored ices
  • Anything red or purple

Beverages

  • Clear fruit juices, such as white cranberry, white grape, apple
  • Soda, such as 7-Up®, Sprite®, ginger ale, seltzer, Gatorade®
  • Black coffee (no cream)
  • Tea
  • Juice with pulp
  • Nectars
  • Milk
  • Alcoholic beverages

Instructions for bowel preparation

At 3:00pm, take 2 bisacodyl (Dulcolax®) tablets.

At 5:00 pm:

  • Divide the MiraLAX® in half. Pour half of the MiraLAX® into each 32-ounce bottle of Gatorade®.
  • Shake until it's fully dissolved.
  • Drink an 8-ounce glass every 30 minutes until both bottles are empty.

At 7:00pm, take the last 2 bisacodyl (Dulcolax®) tablets.

Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your contrast enema. This includes water, gum, and hard candy.

The Day of Your Procedure

What to bring with you

  • A list of the medications you take at home.
  • Medications you take for breathing problems (such as inhalers), medications for chest pain, or both.
  • If you have an ostomy, bring an extra bag and supplies with you.

Where to park

Parking at MSK is available in the garage on East 66th Street between York and First Avenues. To reach the garage, enter East 66th Street from York Avenue. The garage is located about a quarter of a block in from York Avenue, on the right-hand (north) side of the street. There is a pedestrian tunnel that goes from the garage into the hospital. If you have questions about prices, call (212) 639-2338. There are also other garages located on East 69th Street between First and Second Avenues, East 67th Street between York and First Avenues, and East 65th Street between First and Second Avenues.

Where to go

You should arrive at the main building of MSK. Enter through the entrance at 425 East 67th Street, and take the A elevator to the 2nd floor.

What to expect

Once you arrive at the hospital, doctors, nurses, and other staff members will ask you to state and spell your name and date of birth many times. This is for your safety. Patients with the same or similar names may be having procedures on the same day.

After changing into a hospital gown, your radiologic technologist and radiologist will review the procedure with you and answer your questions. You will be helped onto an x-ray table and will lie flat on your back. 

An x-ray of your abdomen will be taken first to make sure there is no stool (feces) in your colon. Your radiologist will put a small tube into your rectum. This will allow the contrast to flow gently into your colon; you may feel some cramping while this is happening. Your radiologist will watch the contrast move through your colon on a monitor screen while x-rays are taken at different times.

The head of the table may be tilted higher or lower and you may be helped into different positions during your procedure. This is so the contrast will coat your entire colon.

Your radiologic technologist will remove the tube from your rectum and you will be taken to the bathroom to expel the contrast and air. Afterward, one or more x-rays will be taken. Once your radiologist has reviewed all of the x-rays, you can leave.

After Your Procedure

You can go back to your usual diet and activities, unless your doctor or nurse gives you other instructions. Your results will be available from your doctor in 2 business days.

If you had a barium enema, your stool will be white for the next few days as your body gets rid of the barium. Barium can cause constipation, so it's important to drink extra liquids to help move it out of your colon. Some patients need a laxative, such as milk of magnesia, or an enema to remove all of the barium. If your stool has not returned to its normal color a few days after your barium enema, ask your doctor if you should take a laxative.

Contact Information

If you have any questions about your contrast enema, please talk with your doctor, nurse, or another member of your healthcare team at the Department of Radiology. You can reach them Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm at (212) 639-7298.

After 8:00 pm, during the weekend, and on holidays, please call (212) 639-2000 and ask for the doctor on call for your doctor.