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What Is the Difference Between an Enema And Suppository?

Suppositories.
A reusable enema bag.
Epsom salt, which can be used to make an enema.
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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 March 2014
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There is a marked difference between an enema and suppository, although they are both used for the relief of constipation in some cases. An enema is a liquid that is inserted into the rectum using a nozzle attached to a bag made of plastic or cloth. The liquid is forced into the rectum through this device to relieve occasional constipation or prepare patients for surgery. A suppository is a small solid or semi-solid plug made from a particular type of medication. The most commonly used type is made from glycerin and is used to relieve constipation, although other medicines may also come in the form of a suppository.

In most cases an enema and suppository are used for very similar things and work in a very similar way. Both the liquid found in an enema and the glycerin in laxative suppositories work to lubricate hardened stools so that they pass more easily. Enemas generally work more effectively at cleaning out the entire colon, as they have a farther reach and contain more medication with each use. Suppository laxatives, however, are generally safer and can be used for a longer period with fewer side effects. Glycerin, although a solid, quickly melts once inside the rectum and provides lubrication for hard to pass stools.

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It is important that patients do not use an enema and suppository at the same time unless directed by a doctor. Enemas can cause damage to the colon if performed too often. Suppositories are not generally absorbed by the body, but they do cause rectal stimulation, and this can lead to problems of its own. If the rectal area is stimulated with a suppository too often, it may become difficult to pass stools without the added stimulus. This can lead to dependence on suppository laxatives.

Both an enema and suppository may be used for different things. The same type of bag and nozzle device used for the relief of constipation may also be used for feminine douching or to perform a vaginal rinse for infections. Suppositories can contain various types of medication and may be used to treat certain other illnesses or conditions, primarily nausea when an oral medication will not stay down.

If symptoms of constipation persist or become worse, patients should discontinue use of all medications and consult a doctor. In most cases, suppositories are symptom-free other than mild discomfort just after insertion. Enemas may cause mild abdominal cramping and strong urge to evacuate the bowels. Neither treatment should be used if constipation is accompanied by severe abdominal cramps, blood in the stools, nausea, vomiting, or fever without consulting a physician.

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Discuss this Article

anon312603
Post 8

I have to be completely honest: I really think that people should try the Dr. Max Powers 15 Day Cleanse. Before I started taking this, I would spend 30 minutes on the toilet, and I never felt like I was actually evacuating my bowels, rather I was just pushing a little out at a time. My BMs were not formed well, were extremely soft, and never completely came out, until I took this.

The first time, yes, the first time I went after I took this, It was like a little slice of heaven. I used one wipe from the TP instead of my typical 20, and I got up and looked in the bowl and almost cried. I was amazed at how much came out. Plus, my stomach is no longer cramping, which is most excellent.

sunnySkys
Post 7

It's very interesting that suppositories can be used to administer medication, rather than just help people who are constipated. This doesn't sound altogether pleasant, but I guess it's necessary if you just can't keep food down!

Suppositories can also be used to treat vaginal infections, which of course makes sense. However, I would caution people against using the same bag and nozzle for douching that they use to relieve constipation.

First of all, douching isn't very good for you. It disrupts your vaginal PH and can actually cause infections. Second of all, if you didn't clean the nozzle well enough, I think you could give yourself another infection!

JessicaLynn
Post 6

I think this article is right to caution people against becoming dependent on enemas or suppositories to help themselves go to the bathroom. You can definitely overuse both of those things to the point where you can't go without them!

However, the same caution is true of an over the counter laxative. Overuse of those can also cause dependence!

I think if you're constipated a lot, you should definitely look to your diet and try to solve the problem, rather than just treating the symptom. Make sure you're getting enough water (this is key) and fresh fruits and vegetables.

starrynight
Post 5

@ddljohn - That's funny, because I would vastly prefer to take a medicine for constipation orally, rather than messing around with a suppository or colonic enema. I think it's much, much easier.

Usually I try something herbal like senna tea, and if that doesn't work I'll use an over the counter laxative. You can usually take those right before bed and go to the bathroom in the morning. I find that much more convenient than having to sit in the bathroom for an hour or more after using an enema or a suppository!

wavy58
Post 4

I wouldn't want to take anything that caused painful cramps and gas. That has always been my issue with regular pill laxatives. It's hard to find one that doesn't cause just as much pain as the actual constipation does.

So, I choose suppositories over pill laxatives and enemas. Constipation is not a frequent issue for me, so I don't worry about becoming dependent.

When it does happen, though, I do realize that I need help with it. I'm not just going to wait and see if it resolves itself, because generally, it won't. I go buy a box of suppositories and take care of it promptly.

ddljohn
Post 3

@feruze-- I don't see much of a difference between enemas and suppositories. I think both are better options than taking powder or pill laxatives by mouth. I believe that there is less risk of dependence with enemas and suppositories because people are not likely to use these every day.

Whether you use an enema or a suppository, you will have some discomfort. But if used properly, they don't cause pain. Enemas and suppositories work the same way, by attracting water into stool to initiate a bowel movement. It's true that enemas work faster, they generally take only a few minutes. Suppositories can take up to an hour. No matter which you use though, it's a very good idea to stay home so you can rush to the bathroom when you need to.

Commercial enemas and suppositories also contain the same ingredients. Enemas contain mineral oil plus a laxative. Suppositories contain glycerin plus a laxative. Mineral oil and glycerin is the same thing, glycerin is just more solid. Homemade enemas use a more variety of ingredients. Warm water, enema soap and milk are commonly used in homemade enemas.

candyquilt
Post 2

@feruze-- From my experience, enemas do cause more discomfort than suppositories. They don't cause pain necessarily, but depending on the type of enema, it can cause bloating and gas anywhere from a couple of hours to more than a day. But they do work a lot faster than suppositories do.

Especially the glycerin suppositories don't really help you empty your bowels, they just make it less painful when it happens. An enema on the other hand will make you empty your bowels and that too fairly quickly. I think enemas are a much better way to clear up the bowels, whether it's in preparation for surgery or detoxification.

The downside is that you will likely be in the bathroom for a while and will experience some bloating and gas. I use a homemade enema with molasses and milk occasionally. And this enema does cause a lot of gas and sometimes mild cramping while it works.

bear78
Post 1

What's the difference between an enema and suppository in terms of effectiveness and pain or discomfort?

I've used glycerin suppositories a couple of times. It wasn't bad, a little uncomfortable initially as the article said. But it doesn't work right away either, it takes a couple of hours if not more.

I've never used an enema but have heard that they can cause a lot of discomfort. Is it painful? How fast does it work?

Which do people prefer for treating constipation?

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