Using Enemas Regularly Can Be Harmful

If you use enemas to treat regular bouts of constipation, it could be making health problems worse. In most cases, constipation can be relieved with lifestyle changes—adding fiber to the diet, exercise, and drinking more water—rather than with enemas and laxatives. If you feel an enema is necessary, you need to understand the risks and how often they can be safely used.

Enemas are not recommended for routine use to have a bowel movement, because they can lead to more serious problems with constipation. In some cases, they can cause complications.

What Is an Enema?

An enema, broadly speaking, is the introduction of a fluid into the rectum and large intestine through the anus. Enemas are used for a variety of reasons. One or more enemas might be used before having a test such as a colonoscopy, to clear the large intestine of any stool. An enema can also contain a medication, and people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that affects the rectum or the sigmoid colon (the last section of the large intestine), might use an enema to treat inflammation in those areas.

In some cases, an enema might be used to help clear constipation. However, this should only be done on the direct advice of a physician. Enemas (high colonics, colon hydrotherapy) shouldn't be used to clear out stool on a regular basis. An enema is invasive and can lead to harmful effects.

Why Enemas Can Cause Damage

Using an enema or a laxative on rare occasions to help ease constipation is not going to cause any permanent damage. However, the repeated use of enemas can, over time, cause problems with the muscles in the intestines. The regular use of enemas can prevent the muscles of the intestine from doing their job properly to move stool along. You should not need to use enemas to have a bowel movement.

When to Seek Care

If you routinely experience constipation that does not respond to anything but an enema or a stimulant, you should seek care from a physician. Long-term constipation could be caused by lifestyle conditions such as inadequate exercise, too little fiber in the diet, or not drinking enough water. However, constipation could also be caused by more serious conditions, such as neurological problems or colon cancer. If you have recently become dependent on enemas to move your bowels, seek advice from your health care provider.

Other Potential Complications From Enemas

In addition to doing harm to the muscles in the intestine, regular enema use can also lead to a condition called hyponatremia (also called water intoxication). Hyponatremia is an imbalance of the electrolytes that occurs when the body does not have enough sodium (salt). Acute hyponatremia can be dangerous and may require treatment with medication or IV fluids.

If you experience symptoms of nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, dizziness, or fever after an enema or a colonic, seek care immediately.

Never use unapproved enemas without clear guidance from a physician. Enemas can be purchased over-the-counter, but they only contain water and salt, mineral oil, or a mild laxative. The introduction of other materials (vitamins, electrolytes, coffee) into your rectum is not recommended and may be harmful.

A Word From Verywell

Enemas are safe when used occasionally for relieving constipation or during a colonoscopy prep. They should only be used under the care of a physician, and shouldn't be created at home using household materials. Instead, an enema should be purchased at a drugstore when one is needed. People who find themselves using enemas more than once in a while should discuss it with a doctor because being unable to move the bowels could be a sign of a condition that needs treatment. Using too many enemas can lead to dependence, so it's best to avoid their use unless truly needed.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources