An enema is the introduction of fluid through the anus into the large intestine. Enemas can be used to treat constipation, to give drugs, or as part of a procedure to empty the bowel contents before an exam (eg, in preparation for a colonoscopy).
Some people become obsessed with enemas, filling them with liquids, such as coffee, that their healthcare provider doesn’t recommend. There is no evidence that using enemas for “detoxing” or for any reason other than to clean the bowel or remove affected stools before a test or surgery has any health benefits.
This article explains how an enema works and some of the fluids you can use to make sure it does what it’s supposed to do.
How do enemas work?
Enemas purchased from a pharmacy have a nozzle at the end of a small bag. The bags are filled with fluids that are injected into the body—sometimes salt and water, sometimes mineral oil. Inserting the nozzle into the anus and squeezing the bag sends the fluid out of the nozzle and into the last part of the colon (the rectum).
Fluid usually remains in the rectum for a specified time. It can stay on until the urge to defecate occurs. In some cases, an enema may be recommended to stay in the body for a few minutes or longer.
When the time comes, the enema and waste in the rectum will be released by sitting on the toilet and having a bowel movement as usual.
Watch out for FDA
Use enemas safely by:
- Read and follow the directions on the Drug Facts label.
- Use the correct dose and frequency of administration.
- Avoid using more than one dose of the product in a 24-hour period.
- Do not give enemas to children under the age of 2.
liquid used in enemas
In some cases, the liquid used in an enema is just saline or water mixed with baking soda. Some enemas contain laxatives. If you’re not sure which fluid to use, talk to your healthcare provider; you should always use an enema under your provider’s supervision, no matter what. Some common enemas include:
- Bisacodyl: Bisacodyl is a laxative and is often used in enemas, especially in preparation for procedures such as colonoscopy.
- Mineral oil: Mineral oil is both a lubricant and a laxative, which makes it especially useful for enemas used to treat constipation, anal pain, or the presence of hemorrhoids.
- Saline solution: In cases of constipation, a saline enema may be recommended. Health experts advise against making your own enemas with tap water.
Simple instructions on how to use an enema
In the treatment of certain conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), medication may be given through an enema. Rowasa (a 5-aminosalicylic acid drug) used to treat ulcerative colitis is given in this way.
This treatment usually resolves the inflammation found in the last part of the colon, where the enema fluid will reach. These enemas are usually recommended at night. Also, instead of releasing the gut right away, an enema is done overnight to give the medicine time to work.
proceed with caution
Talk to your doctor, but you probably shouldn’t use enemas if you have:
- intestinal perforation
- intestinal disease
- congestive heart disease
- kidney disease
Some practitioners offer enemas that may surprise you, such as coffee, lemon juice, and milk. The idea is to remove toxins from the body and strengthen the liver and gallbladder.
People with IBD should be especially wary of these types of enemas. Using non-medical enemas has the potential to introduce harmful substances into the body. In addition, the colon contains various forms of beneficial bacteria, and the use of enemas may disrupt the bacterial flora and damage the delicate lining of the colon.
Enemas inject fluid through the anus into the large intestine and are often used to treat constipation. The liquid is sometimes salt and water (saline), mineral oil, or laxatives. Under the watchful eye of a doctor, and with a clear purpose (such as preparing for a colonoscopy), an enema can work. But some people take the technique to the extreme, filling an enema bag with fluid they hope will detoxify the colon. Follow your healthcare provider’s advice and the directions on the enema box.
Enemas should only be used on the advice of a healthcare provider. Generally speaking, they are safe when used properly. But relying on them or overusing them (meaning more than once a week) can be asking for trouble. In particular, enemas affect the muscles in the colon. If overused, these muscles may stop working properly to move stool, which can make the problem of constipation worse.
How Enemas Make Constipation Worse