How to Use an Enema

An enema can be bought at a drugstore, and you can administer it yourself

Female Rectum
The rectum is located between the buttocks, and is where stool leaves the body. Normally, you shouldn't put anything in your rectum, but when a physician prescribes an enema, the nozzle will need to be inserted inside. Image © Credit: Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

An enema is a helpful tool that can be used in a variety of situations, including in preparation for a colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, surgery, or to treat constipation or fecal impaction. An enema could be given by a healthcare professional, such as a nurse, or it could be done at home. When preparing for a colonoscopy, a doctor may prescribe an enema to make sure everything is really clean for the test.

In other cases, a doctor may prescribe an enema to treat constipation.

Giving yourself an enema sounds pretty terrible. It may seem like a procedure that you won't be able to accomplish on your own, but most people can learn how to use an enema themselves without too much difficulty. You will need to be able to reach behind yourself, so if you have limited range of motion in your shoulders or your arms, or have a loss of feeling in your fingers or hands, you may need assistance. Take your time. Follow your doctor's instructions and the instructions that come with your enema kit.

Precautions for Using an Enema

An enema shouldn't be used on a regular basis to treat constipation. Needing an enema to go to the bathroom could be a signal to consult a doctor and pursue another course of treatment. Using enemas on a regular basis can be harmful to your intestines. An enema should always be used at the direction of a physician, such as prior to surgery or before a colonoscopy.

How to Use an Enema

You will need the enema kit, towels, and a place to lie down. Try to clear your schedule for several hours after the enema to ensure you don't have stress about having to leave the house for work or school.

  1. Purchase the enema from a drug store. If your physician has a recommendation for a brand or a type, ask the pharmacist for it. Also purchase some petroleum jelly, if you have concerns about discomfort.
  1. Lay down some towels on the floor, preferably in the bathroom, if you have enough space, or use another area with a tile floor that is as near the toilet. Roll up one towel to use as a bolster. Keep some other towels and washcloths within arms' reach.
  2. Keep a clock or a timer within your sight to ensure you're using the enema for the recommended time. This ensures that it's effective.
  3. Remove the cap from the tip of the enema nozzle.
  4. If you anticipate discomfort or difficulty, apply some petroleum jelly to your anus to ease insertion of the enema.
  5. Lie on the floor on your left side, with your right knee bent and put the rolled up towel under your right knee to support it.
  6. Using your right hand, gently insert the tip of the enema nozzle into your rectum. This may be uncomfortable, but it should not cause severe pain. If you have severe pain, stop and call your doctor or nurse for advice.
  7. After fully inserting the nozzle into the rectum, start squeezing the enema container to push the enema liquid into the rectum. Try to empty all the liquid from the container by squeezing from the bottom of the container to the top.
  8. Slowly withdraw the nozzle from the rectum. Set the enema bottle aside.
  9. Wait the recommended amount of time before evacuating your bowels. This could be anywhere from two to 15 minutes. Typical waiting time for results from various enema preparations are:
    • Bisacodyl: 15 minutes to 1 hour
    • Docusate: two to 15 minutes
    • Glycerin: 15 minutes to 1 hour
    • Mineral oil: two to 15 minutes
    • Senna: in 30 minutes up to 2 hours
    • Sodium: two to five minutes
  1. After waiting the appropriate amount of time, evacuate your bowels.
  2. Stay close to a toilet for the next 30 minutes to an hour, as you may need to go to the bathroom several more times. 
  3. Dispose of the enema bottle properly.

A Word From Verywell

Always use the enema kit that was recommended by your physician. Contact your doctor if you can not complete the enema, or experience severe discomfort or pain.

Sources:

Fleet Saline Enema Fleet. http://www.fleetlabs.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/ICS5_1198F01_08209_M1.pdf.

Sodium Phosphate Rectal. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a614018.html.

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