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Defecating Proctogram

Information for Patients


WHY IS A PROCTOGRAM EXAMINATION?

This is an X-ray examination. It produces a series of images which show how your bottom functions during emptying of your bowels. The purpose of the test is to find out what may be causing your symptoms (e.g. incontinence or difficulty in passing stool).

CAN I BRING A FRIEND OR RELATIVE?

Yes, but for reasons of safety they will not be able to accompany you into the X-ray room except in very special circumstances.

ARE THERE ANY RISKS?

Exposure to radiation: This is a low dose examination and the amount of radiation is kept to a minimum. This is equivalent to the amount of background radiation that you naturally receive over 3-5 weeks.

There is a very small risk (1 in 2000 patients) of a small tear in the lining of the rectum. This usually occurs only if the patient also has severe bowel inflammation.

WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE TEST?

You will be asked to drink a quantity of some special liquid called barium for an hour and a half before the examination. The barium shows up on the X-ray and allows us to see your small bowel during the examination.

You will be asked to go into a cubicle and change into a hospital gown to make sure that no metal coins/objects are seen on the pictures.

When you are ready, a radiographer and doctor/specialist radiologist will enter the cubicle and you will be asked to lie on your side on the couch provided. Some barium paste (a similar consistency to toothpaste) will be inserted into your back passage using a soft tube. The barium paste helps to highlight more of your lower bowel. If you are female, some dye may be inserted into your vagina which highlights this area on X-ray and allows us to see everything in more detail.

You will then be taken into the X-ray room where you will be asked to sit on a specially designed commode (like a toilet) surrounded by a modesty curtain.

Once you feel comfortable, a low dose X-ray is taken in three stages. First, an image is taken at rest. Then we will ask you to squeeze hold of the barium in the bottom. Finally we will ask you to empty your bowels.

We fully appreciate that this procedure requires privacy and we will make every effort to make you feel relaxed and comfortable.

WILL IT BE UNCOMFORTABLE OR PAINFUL?

You should not feel any pain and, apart from having to remain still for a short while, you should experience no discomfort.

WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE EXAMINATION - ARE THERE ANY SIDE EFFECTS?

There are a few things which should make you more comfortable after your examination:

  • It is very important to drink plenty of fluids - several glasses of water each day to quench thirst. The barium will make your motions whitish for the next few days and can constipate you. Therefore, keep drinking extra until your stools are no longer whiter than normal. It is important to wash away the barium inside your bowel so that it does not harden inside you and cause constipation or even block the toilet!
  • Eating a high fibre diet like bran or wholemeal bread can help too
  • If you have problems with your heart or water retention, you may not be able to drink this much safely. If in doubt or you find you become breathless or your legs swell up, contact your GP.
  • The dye in your vagina will come out naturally so you may want to wear sanitary pads for the next couple of days. It will look like a clear or whitish discharge.

WHY DO I NEED SUCH EMBARRASSING TESTS?

These tests tell us whether your bowel is too sluggish or lazy and whether your bowel empties normally. Spasms, weakness and/or prolapse of your internal organs can be detected and graded for severity.

Our expert staff perform hundreds of these important tests annually and will take great pains to ensure that your fears and embarrassment are allayed.