Barium Sulfate

Contrast agents like barium sulphate are administered to allow a clearer image of the patient’s insides during medical imaging techniques such as X-rays and CT scans.

Overview

Barium sulfate is used during the examination and diagnosis of various gastrointestinal conditions. It is a radiographic contrast agent used to improve the clarity of pictures taken via a number of medical imaging techniques. Barium sulfate is often administered before X-ray or CT scan examinations, to assist in diagnosing conditions affecting the patient’s bowel, stomach and esophagus.

Barium sulfate can be administered orally or rectally, depending on the nature of the condition under investigation. Whilst the oral solution can be taken at home, the enema form is only ever given under the direct supervision of a medical professional.

If taking oral barium sulfate at home, it is essential that you follow your prescribing doctor’s instructions, or the directions on the label, completely.

Barium sulfate is available for administration in the following forms:

  • kit
  • cream
  • paste
  • tablet
  • powder for Suspension
  • suspension
  • enema
  • liquid

Conditions Treated

  • Contrast agent to produce greater clarity of images during X-ray attenuation

Type of Medicine

  • Non-iodinated contrast media

Side Effects

Alongside its anticipated and desired effects, using barium sulfate may occasionally present the patient with some unwanted side effects. Whilst unlikely that all (or even some) of the listed side effects might occur, should any of them do so, they may require medical attention.

You should consult your prescribing doctor or other health care professional, as soon as possible, should you exhibit any of these side effects following your treatment with barium sulfate:

  • unusual weakness or tiredness
  • difficulty with breathing
  • tightness around the chest
  • sweating
  • trouble with breathing, or a sudden shortness or lack of breath
  • stomach pain
  • reddening on the skin
  • persistent oozing or bleeding from the nose, mouth, or puncture sites
  • noisy breathing
  • vomiting or nausea
  • skin rashes, itching, welts, or hives
  • fast heartbeat
  • fainting
  • light-headedness, faintess, or dizziness when rising quickly from a seated or prone position
  • severe cramping
  • vomiting blood or coughing
  • cough
  • continuing and severe constipation
  • confusion
  • chest pain
  • bruising
  • blurred vision
  • blood in urine
  • blood in stools
  • bloating
  • anxiety

Whilst the above-listed side effects might require immediate medical attention, there are some other side effects that are less severe and would normally not need the attention of a doctor. Such side effects might disappear during your treatment, with your body acclimatizing itself to the barium sulfate, or your doctor might offer advice on how you can reduce or prevent some of the effects. Whilst you need not consult a medical professional immediately, should any of the side effects listed below present themselves, if they persist or become bothersome, be sure to speak to your doctor.

  • cramping
  • diarrhea or constipation

Dosage

The concentration and volume in the barium sulfate to be administered prior to your medical imaging procedure depends upon the extent and degree of contrast that your doctor requires in the areas being examined, as well as on the technique and equipment being employed. With so many variables to take into consideration, it is impossible to offer details of an “average” dosage here.

A medical imaging examination is often performed alongside an upper GI series. In these circumstances, you are expected to have nothing to drink or eat after midnight before your examination. You will be allowed to rinse your mouth out with water, but should not swallow it.

During and immediately following the test, it is important that you drink plenty of liquids, since barium sulfate has been known to cause severe constipation.

Major Drug Interactions

Certain medications ought not to be used with each other under any circumstances. In certain cases a pair of alternative drugs might be used in conjunction with one another, even though a known interaction might be expected to occur. In such cases, the prescribing doctor might choose to amend the dose in your treatment with barium sulfate, or there may be other precautions they can take. If you presently take any other medicine, be it prescription or non-prescription, you should advise your medical professional before taking barium sulfate.

Some drugs ought not to be used at the time you eat food, nor when you eat certain food types, as they might prompt an interaction. If you use tobacco or alcohol alongside some drugs, you might also provoke an interaction of some sort. Consult your examining doctor about how to use barium sulfate alongside tobacco, alcohol, or food.

Similarly, certain medical conditions might affect how you use barium sulfate prior to your diagnostic examination. Be sure to inform your doctor should you suffer from another medical issue, but especially if you are suffering from the following:

  • recent allergy to barium sulfate, or any other kind of contrast agent
  • history of hay fever, asthma, or other allergic reactions
  • appendicitis (that is, an inflammation of your appendix)
  • cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disorder or disease
  • bowel or stomach conditions, such as stenosis, ulcers, fistula, or diverticulitis
  • cystic fibrosis
  • dehydration
  • electrolyte imbalance
  • severe stenosis
  • recent radiation treatment for the prostate or rectum
  • suspected or known bowel or stomach blockage
  • suspected or known bowel or stomach perforation
  • bowel or stomach problems, such as injury, bleeding, severe ileus, ischemia, or a toxic megacolon
  • bowel or stomach surgery
  • difficulty swallowing

Warnings

When undergoing any diagnostic test, the risks of the test should be weighed against what good it will do. This should be decided between yourself and your doctor. Other elements might also impact on your test results, and the following things should be considered prior to the test.

You should inform your doctor if you have ever had any allergic or otherwise unusual reaction when taking barium sulfate, or any other kind of medicine in the past. You should also inform your health care professional whether you suffer from other kinds of allergies, including allergic reactions to animals, dyes, foods, or preservatives.

The FDA has yet to formally assign barium sulfate to a pregnancy category, as there have been insufficient tests among human subjects to determine whether or not it has a harmful effect on the fetus. Likewise, there are no animal studies relating to the effect barium sulfate has. However, radiation has been shown to cause danger and harm to the fetus in utero and, as such, any radiographic procedure should only ever be used if deemed essential by a medical professional to be in the best interests of the patient concerned.

Barium sulfate does not become absorbed into the human system, and so it might be safely used during breastfeeding, with no damage to the nursing infant.

There have been no studies performed to date which have demonstrated any pediatric-specific problems which would restrict barium sulfate’s usefulness in children who are twelve years of age, or above. The safety and efficacy in using barium sulfate has yet to be established for children under the age of twelve.

There have been no studies performed to date which have demonstrated any geriatric-specific problems which would restrict barium sulfate’s usefulness in elderly patients. That said, elderly patients are more susceptible to heart, liver, or kidney problems, which may require an adjustment in dosage or application from their healthcare professional.

Serious allergic reactions have been known to occur while receiving barium sulfate. If you begin to exhibit a rash, noisy breathing, itching, dizziness, light-headedness, difficulty breathing, or fainting after you have taken barium sulfate, be sure to consult your doctor.

Do not take other medication alongside barium sulfate, unless you have previously discussed this with your doctor. The applies to over-the-counter medication, as much as prescribed medicines.

Storage

Barium sulfate is usually administered by a medical professional, just prior to your X-ray or other medical imaging procedure, and so you are unlikely to have to store quantities of it yourself.

If you are given barium sulfate and expected to keep it at home, be sure to keep the medication securely closed in the container it came in. It should be stored somewhere away from excess moisture, and excess heat, and should be kept at room temperature. Always ensure that barium sulfate is kept beyond the reach of any children or pets. Your doctor might advise you to refrigerate the medication in order that it be chilled prior to administration.

Should you no longer need your barium sulfate you must ensure that it is disposed of in the appropriate manner. If you have any questions or concerns about how you should dispose of any barium sulfate, you should always speak to your prescribing doctor, or other healthcare professional beforehand.

Summary

Barium sulfate is a radiographic contrast agent, used during a number of medical imaging procedures, such as X-ray attenuation and CT scans. It allows for greater clarity of images taken during such procedures, and aids in the examination and diagnosis of many conditions that affect the bowels, esophagus and stomach.

Though not a treatment in and of itself, it is an essential component in the correct diagnosis of gastrointestinal issues.

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Last Reviewed:
December 23, 2017
Last Updated:
December 22, 2017
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