How to Use an Enema for Clearing the Bowel

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An enema is the introduction of liquid, most often mineral oil, through the anus and into the large intestine. An enema may be given to treat constipation, to administer medication or barium, or as part of the procedure to empty the contents of the bowel before a test (such as​ a colonoscopy). Enemas may also sometimes be given before surgery on the abdomen or during a pregnant woman's labor, but this is no longer common.

Using homemade enemas are not recommended, nor is using an enema containing liquids or substances other than what is recommended by a physician. There is no evidence that using an enema for "detoxing" or for reasons other than cleaning the bowel before a test or procedure or for removing impacted stool has any health benefits.

There could be harm in using enemas too often, or in using enemas with substances that may disrupt the balance of the beneficial bacteria found in the large intestine.

How Are Enemas Used?

An enema is both a verb and a noun: it refers to the actual device and the act of using it. An enema that one buys in the pharmacy has a nozzle on the end of a small bag. The bag is filled with the liquid that's to be injected into the body. The nozzle is inserted into the anus and the bag is squeezed, sending the liquid out of the nozzle and into the last part of the colon (the rectum). 

The liquid is usually held in the rectum for some specified amount of time. It could just be held until the urge to move the bowels comes on. In some cases, it might be suggested that the enema is held inside the body for a few minutes or longer. When it's time, the enema and the waste material that is in the rectum is released by sitting on the toilet and moving the bowels like normal.

Liquids Used In Enemas

In some cases, the liquid used in an enema is just saltwater, and in other, it contains a laxative. Check with your doctor if you are unsure as to which type of enema is recommended for you.

  • Bisacodyl. Bisacodyl is a type of laxative that is frequently used in enemas, especially in those that are used in preparation for a procedure such as a colonoscopy.
  • Mineral oil. Mineral oil is both a lubricant and a laxative, which makes it especially useful in enemas that are used to treat constipation, or when the anus is sore or if there are hemorrhoids.
  • Saline solution. In the cases of constipation, a saltwater enema might be recommended. Mixing your own enema solution using tap water is not recommended.
  • Medication. In the treatment of some types of conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), medication might be given with an enema. A drug used to treat ulcerative colitis that is given in this way is Rowasa (which is a 5-aminosalicylic drug). This is usually to treat inflammation that is found in the last section of the colon, where the enema liquid will reach, but that might not be the case in all uses. It's usually recommended that these enemas are used at night, and that instead of releasing the bowels, that the enema is held in all night, to give the medication time to work.
  • Other substances. There are practitioners who offer enemas with other substances in them (coffee, lemon juice, milk), which are claimed to offer some health benefits. Use of these types of enemas without the supervision of a physician is not approved or recommended to treat any condition. People with IBD should be especially wary of these types of enemas. There is the potential to introduce harmful materials into the body with the use of a nonmedical enema. In addition, the colon contains various forms of beneficial bacteria, and the use of an enema may disrupt the bacterial flora and cause harm.

A Word From Verywell

Enemas are not harmless and should be used only on the advice of a physician. Using enemas on a regular basis can have an effect on the muscles in the colon. In time, the muscles will stop working properly to move stool along, which worsens the problems with constipation.

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