Can Using Enemas Harm Your Intestines?

Using Enemas On A Regular Basis Could Be Harmful

Enema
The overuse of enemas can have health consequences.. Photo © Dmitry Poliansky

Most adults deal with the occasional bout of constipation. In most cases, constipation can be relieved without the use of laxatives or enemas, but instead with lifestyle changes such as adding fiber to the diet, exercise, and drinking more water. If you need to use an enema, you may be wondering if it can be harmful, and how often you can use them. Enemas are not recommended for routine use to have a bowel movement, because they can lead to more serious problems with constipation and in some cases, can even 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 is 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 not taking enough 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. 

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.

If you have recently become dependent on enemas to move your bowels, seek advice from your health care provider.

The Bottom Line

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 a dependence, so it's best to avoid their use unless truly needed.

Source:

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. "Facts and Fallacies About Digestive Diseases." NIH Publication No. 04–2673 May 2004.

Continue Reading