Barium Sulfate

Uses of Barium Sulfate

Barium sulfate is used to help doctors examine the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth and stomach), stomach, and intestine using x-rays or computed tomography (CAT scan, CT scan; a type of body scan that uses a computer to put together x-ray images to create cross-sectional or three-dimensional pictures of the inside of the body). Barium sulfate is in a class of medications called radiopaque contrast media. It works by coating the esophagus, stomach, or intestine with a material that is not absorbed into the body so that diseased or damaged areas can be clearly seen by x-ray examination or CT scan.

Side Effects of Barium Sulfate

Barium sulfate may cause side effects. Tell your doctor if any of these symptoms are severe or do not go away:

  • stomach cramps
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • weakness
  • pale skin
  • sweating
  • ringing in the ears

Some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of these symptoms tell the staff at the testing center or call your doctor immediately:

Barium sulfate may cause other side effects. Call your doctor if you have any unusual problems while taking or after receiving this medication.

Warnings & Precautions

Before taking or using barium sulfate:

  • tell your doctor and the staff at the testing center if you are allergic to barium sulfate, other radiopaque contrast media, simethicone (Gas-X, Phazyme, others), any other medications, any foods, latex, or any of the ingredients in the type of barium sulfate that you will be taking or using. Ask the staff at the testing center for a list of the ingredients.
  • tell your doctor and the staff at the testing center what prescription and nonprescription medications, vitamins, nutritional supplements, and herbal products you are taking or plan to take. Your doctor will tell you whether you should take your medications on the day of your test and whether you should wait a certain amount of time between taking your regular medications and taking barium sulfate.
  • tell your doctor if you have recently had a rectal biopsy (removal of a small amount of tissue from the rectum for laboratory examination) and if you have any blockage, sores, or holes in the esophagus, stomach, or intestine; or swelling or cancer of the rectum; Also tell your doctor if your infant or young child has any condition that affects his or her esophagus, stomach, or intestine, or has had surgery involving the intestines. Your doctor may tell you or your child not to take barium sulfate.
  • tell your doctor if you have recently had any type of surgery especially surgery involving the colon (large intestine) or rectum if you have had a colostomy (surgery to create an opening for waste to leave the body through the abdomen), intracranial hypertension (pseudotumor cerebri; high pressure in the skull that may cause headaches, vision loss, and other symptoms), or if you have ever aspirated food (inhaled food into the lungs). Also, tell your doctor if you or anyone in your family has or has ever had allergies and if you have or have ever had asthma; hay fever (allergy to pollen, dust, or other substances in the air); hives; eczema (red, an itchy skin rash caused by allergy or sensitivity to substances in the environment); constipation; cystic fibrosis (an inherited condition in which the body produces thick, sticky mucus that can interfere with breathing and digestion); Hirschsprung’s disease (an inherited condition in which the intestines do not work normally); high blood pressure; or heart disease.
  • tell your doctor if there is any chance that you are pregnant, if you plan to become pregnant, or if you are breast-feeding. The radiation used in x-rays and CT scans may harm the fetus.


Barium sulfate comes as a powder to be mixed with water, a suspension (liquid), a paste, and a tablet. The powder and water mixture and the suspension may be taken by mouth or may be given as an enema (a liquid that is instilled into the rectum), and the paste and tablet are taken by mouth. Barium sulfate is usually taken one or more times before an x-ray examination or CT scan.

If you are using a barium sulfate enema, the enema will be administered by medical staff at the testing center. If you are taking barium sulfate by mouth, you may be given the medication after you arrive at the testing center or you may be given the medication to take at home at specific times the night before and/or the day of your test. If you are taking barium sulfate at home, take it exactly as directed. Do not take more or less of it or take it more often or at different times than directed.

Swallow the tablets whole; do not split, chew, or crush them.

Shake the liquid well before each use to mix the medication evenly. If you are given a powder to mix with water and take at home, be sure that you are also given directions for mixing and that you understand these directions. Ask your doctor or the staff at the testing center if you have any questions about mixing your medication.

You will be given specific directions to follow before and after your test. You may be told to drink only clear liquids after a certain time the day before your test, not to eat or drink after a specific time, and/or to use laxatives or enemas before your test. You may also be told to use laxatives to clear the barium sulfate from your body after your test. Be sure that you understand these directions and follow them carefully. Ask your doctor or the staff at the testing center if you are not given directions or if you have any questions about the directions you are given.


Keep all appointments with your doctor and the testing center.

Do not let anyone else take your medication.

It is important for you to keep a written list of all of the prescription and nonprescription (over-the-counter) medicines you are taking, as well as any products such as vitamins, minerals, or other dietary supplements. You should bring this list with you each time you visit a doctor or if you are admitted to a hospital. It is also important information to carry with you in case of emergencies.


All information has been provided courtesy of MedLinePlus from the National Library of Medicine and from the FDA.