How to Use an Enema

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

Enema
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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 the rectum and lower end of the colon is really clean for the test.

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

Administering an enema to oneself sounds pretty scary. It may seem like a procedure that can't be accomplished without the help of another person, but most people can learn how to use an enema themselves without too much difficulty. To use an enema, it's necessary to be able to reach behind oneself, so for those who have limited range of motion in the shoulders or the arms, or have a loss of feeling in the fingers or hands, assistance might be needed. Take it slow. Follow the doctor's instructions and the instructions that come with the 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

To use an enema, things needed includes the enema kit, towels, and a place to lie down. It's also good to have a clear schedule for several hours after the enema to ensure there isn't any stress about having to leave the house for work or school.

  1. Purchase the enema kit from a drug store. The physician may have a recommendation for a brand or a type, ask the pharmacist for it. Also purchase some petroleum jelly, if there are any concerns about discomfort.
  2. Lay down some towels on the floor, preferably in the bathroom, if there's enough space, or use another area with a tile floor that is near the toilet. Roll up one towel to use as a bolster. Keep some other towels and washcloths within arms' reach.
  3. Keep a clock or a timer within sight to ensure the enema is being used for the recommended amount of time. This ensures that it's as effective as possible.
  4. Remove the cap from the tip of the enema nozzle.
  5. If it's thought that there might be discomfort or difficulty from the enema, apply some petroleum jelly to the anus to ease insertion of the enema.
  6. Lie on the floor on the left side, with the right knee bent, and put the rolled up towel under the right knee to support it.
  7. Using the right hand, gently insert the tip of the enema nozzle into the rectum. This may be uncomfortable, but it should not cause severe pain. If there is severe pain, stop and call a doctor or nurse for advice.
  8. 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.
  1. Slowly withdraw the nozzle from the rectum. Set the enema bottle aside.
  2. Wait the recommended amount of time before going to the bathroom. 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: 30 minutes up to 2 hours
    • Sodium: 2 to 5 minutes
  3. After waiting the appropriate amount of time, evacuate the bowels.
  4. Stay close to a toilet for the next 30 minutes to an hour, as it might be necessary to go to the bathroom several more times. 
  1. Dispose of the enema bottle properly.

A Word From Verywell

Always use an enema kit that was recommended by a physician. Contact a doctor if it's not possible to complete the enema, or there is severe discomfort or pain. Home preparations or enemas that include other substances such as coffee or alcohol are not safe and should not be used.

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.