How Does an Enema Work?

Enemas are probably among the least adored medical tools, yet nobody can deny their usefulness. Used for toxin and waste removal from the colon, they are obligatory for some medical procedures such as colonoscopy and sigmoidoscopy, as well as prior to surgeries.

You can self-administer an enema at home, but if you are not so confident, the best solution is to get an enema from your medical provider and thus avoid any possible risks.

How does an enema work, what are the possible dangers, and what types of enema exist? These are common enema-related questions that this article will answer.

General Tips

It is usually a good idea to have assistance when using an enema because you have to reach down to your anal area. This is not easy to achieve simply because of how the range of motion works.

Take good care of the amount of fluid which goes inside the rectum. If you use too much, the fluid can go too far inside the colon and stay there for longer than 30 minutes.

Not only can this lead to embarrassing situations if you go out, but excess fluids can also lead to bowel perforation. This condition usually goes unnoticed until other, more severe symptoms arise.

The temperature of the fluids introduced to the rectum should be close to the body temperature because the intestines are not accustomed to fluids which are too warm or too cold because. When they encounter such liquids, the intestines expel it right away.

Using an enema for treating ongoing constipation can lead to complications because bad bacteria may enter the intestines. The unexpected stream of fluid can move dense fecal stones and lead to rectal tears.

How to Correctly Use an Enema

This process takes several hours, so it is best to take a day off from work and stay at home for the remainder of the day. To use an enema, you need towels, somewhere to lay down, and of course, the enema kit.

You can buy the enema kit from any drugstore, alongside some preferred lubricant. The best place for doing this is the bathroom. Lay towels down on the floor and roll one up as a pad. Make sure to have additional towels nearby.

Have a clock or cellphone nearby to keep track of time and ensure that you only use the enema for the recommended period. Take the cap off the enema and lubricate the anus for easier insertion. Bend the right knee lying down on your left side, and place the padded towel under the knee to support it.

Use your right hand to slowly insert the enema nozzle inside the rectum. You might feel uncomfortable, but it should not be painful. In case you do feel pain, stop immediately. After inserting the nozzle, squeeze the enema container and release the liquid.

Make sure to empty the entire container from the bottom up. Gently remove the nozzle and throw it out.

The only thing left is to wait. Waiting times for different enema fluids are as follows:

  • Docusate: From 2 to 15 minutes
  • Glycerin: From 15 to 60 minutes
  • Senna: From 30 to 120 minutes
  • Sodium: From 2 to 5 minutes
  • Bisacodyl: From 15 to 60 minutes
  • Mineral Oil: From 2 to 15 minutes

After this, you should use the bathroom. Stay in the vicinity of the bathroom for another hour just to be sure as you might have to go some more.

Enema Types

Cleansing Enema

A cleansing enema can be found over the counter at any drugstore. This type of enema is used for flushing out the colon gently. It relieves fatigue, constipation, backaches, headaches, etc. Its primary use is before surgery or colonoscopy. The fluids listed above are used in this type of enema. All of them are supposed to work, but your doctor or pharmacist can recommend something specific.


Barium enema, also known as colon X-ray, is an X-ray exam used to spot anomalies in the colon. A solution with barium sulfate makes a coating on the distal colon after being inserted.

Doctors use this method to get intestinal images. The barium coating helps to receive a clear image of the colon.

Usually, X-ray images of soft tissue are of poor quality. A special type of barium enema, known as air-contrast barium enema is used to pump air into the colon, which improves the image quality.

Alternatives to an Enema

Sadly, an enema cannot be replaced while prepping patients for surgery or other medical procedures. It is not the only type of solution for constipation, however. Most medical practitioners will suggest using laxatives such as:

  • Stool softeners to moisturize the stool
  • Osmotic laxatives to make the intestines secrete water into the colon, thus softening the stool
  • Fiber agents to make stools softer by holding water in the intestines
  • Stimulants to help the stool pass by triggering muscle contractions in the intestines

Other ways to prevent constipation include lifestyle changes and diets that aid bowel movement. These include proper hydration, regular exercise, and eating food that contain plenty of fibers. Getting enough sleep is also important because a lack of sleep causes constipation.

Potential Risks When Using an Enema

How does an enema work? If you know the answer to this question, you should not be at any risk. There are some possible side effects, though, like with any other medication. Namely, after you use an enema, you may experience nausea, fainting, lightheadedness, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Be mindful when inserting the nozzle into the rectum so you do not damage the internal organs. Also, take care of hygiene because failing to do so can lead to infections.

If you use enemas too much, it can gradually weaken the bowel muscles and result in an inability to carry out regular bowel movements.

The Constipation Cessation

You now know that enemas are safe to use in the comfort of your home, but keep in mind all the precautions and advice on how to use an enema properly.

Although you can’t avoid the surgery prep enema, you can minimize your need for regular enemas by introducing healthy lifestyle changes, staying hydrated, exercising, and not skipping sleeping. Eating fiber-rich foods will not do you harm either.