Barium sulphate is a thick, white liquid that shows up well on x-rays. It is used in various diagnostic tests, such as Upper GI contrast studies and Contrast enemas. It is also used to highlight parts of the digestive system for certain interventional radiology procedures.

Depending on the procedure planned, we will either ask you to give the barium at home the night before the procedure or we will give it to your child in the Radiology department during their test. 

Barium comes in a can, similar to a cola can, and tastes a little chalky. If your child does not like the taste, you can flavour it with a little milkshake powder or syrup. If your child has a nasogastric or gastrostomy tube, the barium can sometimes be given through the device. You must flush the device thoroughly afterwards as you have been shown. Otherwise the barium may block the tube.

For interventional radiology procedures, it is important that your child has enough barium before the procedure. If your child has not had enough barium for the procedure to be carried out safely, the doctors will discuss possible alternatives but the procedure may have to be delayed or even cancelled. Please tell us if your child has not been able to take all the barium

Once your child has had the dose of barium, you can dispose of the rest of the can in your household rubbish.

What are the side effects?

Barium does not have any major side effects. It may in large volumes cause some constipation in the days that follow the procedure. Your child’s faeces (poo) may appear white as the barium is passing out of his or her body but this is quite normal. 

Very rarely, people may have an allergic reaction to barium. If this occurs, take your child to your nearest Accident and Emergency (A&E) department, taking the barium can with you.

Interactions with other medicines

Barium will not interfere with any medicines your child is taking. Unless advised otherwise, you should continue to give your child medicines at the scheduled time and dose.

Compiled by: 
The Radiology department in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group
Last review date: 
October 2014


Please read this information sheet from GOSH alongside the patient information leaflet (PIL) provided by the manufacturer. If you do not have a copy of the manufacturer’s patient information leaflet please talk to your pharmacist. A few products do not have a marketing authorisation (licence) as a medicine and therefore there is no PIL.

For children in particular, there may be conflicts of information between the manufacturer’s patient information leaflet (PIL) and guidance provided by GOSH and other healthcare providers. For example, some manufacturers may recommend, in the patient information leaflet, that a medicine is not given to children aged under 12 years. In most cases, this is because the manufacturer will recruit adults to clinical trials in the first instance and therefore the initial marketing authorisation (licence) only covers adults and older children.  

For new medicines, the manufacturer then has to recruit children and newborns into trials (unless the medicine is not going to be used in children and newborns) and subsequently amend the PIL with the approved information. Older medicines may have been used effectively for many years in children without problems but the manufacturer has not been required to collect data and amend the licence. This does not mean that it is unsafe for children and young people to be prescribed such a medicine ‘off-licence/off-label’. However, if you are concerned about any conflicts of information, please discuss with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist.