Types of Enemas and How They’re Used
29 Apr, 2021
For the uninitiated, an enema is simply inserting liquid or gas up the booty hole, normally to boost your bowel movements.
Honestly, enemas are the sort of thing that we’d all eventually discover on our own. If you’re bored or constipated enough, you’re definitely exploring up-the-butt solutions. Consider that many ancient civilizations discovered enemas without any communication between cultures. The Pre-Colombian South Americans, Sumerians, Africans, and Ancient Chinese were all using enemas. And here frat boys think they invented butt chugging. Babe, know your history!
Fortunately, enemas are not the sort of thing that you need to workshop through trial and error. There’s a broad spectrum of medical best practices and applications for this tried-and-true tuckus technology. Today, we’ll talk you through the different types of enemas and how they may help your overall butt health.
What is an enema?
Right, to recap: an enema is putting liquid or gas up your rectum. If you’re asking “why,” congratulations! You’ve successfully evaded colonoscopies and you’ve never been so constipated you thought you might be dying. Yes, the premier purpose of enemas is to help empty your bowels.
Before your rush to DIY an enema with, say, a turkey baster, be forewarned: regular enema use is not advised. While the occasional enema can help treat certain medical conditions, routine enemas can actually cause health problems. And there is at least one case of a couple becoming addicted to enemas, in Florida of course. No matter what Gwyneth Paltrow says, there are just a few uses for enemas. We’ll take you through the types of enemas first, then tell you when you may need them!
What are the different types of enemas?
There are two main types of enemas, especially when it comes to constipation. We’re looking at cleansing enemas and retention enemas. They both clean out your bowels, but you can think of it this way: the cleansing enema is more of a shower and the retention enema is more of a soak. Here’s more on these common constipation-busting colon cleansers:
Let’s start with your water-based enemas. These are meant to be held in the rectum briefly to flush the colon. Once they’re in the butt, your body will retain them for a couple minutes until it releases the liquid and, hopefully, stool.
What’s in them?
Some of the most common cleansing enemas include water or saline. You’ll also find epsom salt or sodium phosphate used commonly. We’ve heard of folks using lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and mild castile soap in at-home-style enemas, but we don’t recommend this. To be safe, you should definitely buy your enema kit at a drugstore.
The retention enema is designed to be, well, retained in your lower intestine for at least 15 minutes before being released. Retention enemas can be water- or oil-based, which tends to do the important-depending-on-the-circumstances work of softening the stool. Softer stools are easier to expel. Here’s what may help get your stubborn stools ready to leave your bod:
What’s in them?
These ingredients are edging closer into Goop territory. We’re talking coffee, mineral oil, probiotics, and herbal water infused with anti-inflammatory ingredients like garlic and tea. Again, unless you’re buying your enema kit at a drugstore, we do not advise.
In what scenarios are enemas used?
Constipation is a great raison d’enema. But it’s not the only cause for an up-the-butt colon cleanse. Here are a handful of reasons that you may find yourself exploring this type of doctor-approved butt chugging.
You know the feeling. Your insides are blocked. You’re bloated. Constipation frickin’ sucks. There are a variety of at-home approaches to tackle stubborn stools. But if your doctor recommends an enemas, they’re a good option to keep in your tool kit. Be aware that enemas do not treat the underlying causes of constipation, and it may actually make your constipation worse. Keep your doctor looped in on your constipation progression for a happy, healthy body.
In medical offices
Preparation for surgery
Generally, enemas are a good way to clean your GI tract in advance of a medical procedure (think: colonoscopy). It’s more likely that they will administer an oral preparation that cleans out the colon, but it never hurts to be prepared for an enema.
Preparation for a colonoscopy
A colonoscopy is where a doctor sticks a teeny camera up your a-hole to detect any issues in your colon and rectum. Obviously they aren’t gonna get good footage if you’ve got fecal obstructions in the mix. So at-home enemas are in the colonoscopy prep toolkit.
Preparation for colon cancer screening
There’s a specific type of enema called the Double-Contrast Barium Enema (a.k.a. DCBE or barium enema). This uses Barium, a silver-white metallic compound, up the butt to outline the colon and rectum, and then an X-ray to identify any abnormal growths on the colon. They also use air up the butt to enhance the X-ray. These enemas are low risk and less expensive than colonoscopies, so they’re a go-to method to screen for colorectal cancer and inflammatory disease.
Another possible use for an enema is administering medication straight to the GI tract. For example, if you have ulcerative colitis, this may only affect the large intestine and rectum. The gastrointestinal tract can digest or degrade medications that you consume orally. Like, go off stomach -- you’re killing it at your job, girl! But if you need undiluted meds delivered straight to the large intestine and rectum, you’re gonna want to start the journey anally.
Are there any risks to getting an enema?
Hard yes here! While enemas are typically safe and easy to use if you administer them correctly with sterile equipment, there are real risks to even one at-home enema. This includes the possibility of stretching or puncturing the rectum or intestines, disrupting your gut microflora, and infection or sepsis, which can be fatal :(. Repeated use can weaken your intestinal muscles so you become dependent on enemas to have a poop. Also, if you put too much water up your butt over an extended period of time, it can cause an imbalance of electrolytes which can technically lead to a coma. You’ve been warned!
Do enemas hurt?
They can be uncomfy, but they shouldn’t be painful. You may feel heavy, but you shouldn’t feel sharp pain.
What happens if you don’t have a bowel movement after an enema?
If you don’t feel the need to poo within 5 minutes, sit on the toilet and see if anything comes. If you go 30 minutes without dropping a dump, call a doctor promptly. You may be at risk of dehydration, especially if you used a mineral oil enema.
What is the best type of enema?
This depends on your needs, and your doctor is your best guide here. For constipation, mild cleansing enemas with water or saline carry the least risk for the most gain. If you have a colonoscopy or need medication up your butt, a medical professional will walk you through all of your enema needs.
When should you use an enema?
Avoid them if you have kidney or heart conditions. Older folks also have greater risk for adverse side effects and should generally avoid enemas. Again, we defer to doctors on the issue of when you need an enema. If you cannot poop, which we hate for you BTW, an occasional enema may be your new BFF. If you have a medical need for an empty intestine, your doctor will let cha know!