Overview & Description
An enema is a way of cleaning out the large intestine, which is
called the colon or bowel. Various solutions are inserted into the rectum
to soften the stool. This causes the colon and rectum to stretch and
expand and helps the bowel to empty.
Who is a candidate for the procedure?
Enemas may be given:
to relieve constipation.
Enemas may be given at home by the person, a family member,
or a visiting nurse.
to prepare for an exam of the rectum or colon, such as a
prior to surgery on the bowel
prior to certain X-ray procedures, such as a
A barium enema is a series of X-ray films that shows the colon after a contrast
agent is inserted in the rectum.
Enemas used to be given to anyone having surgery and to
women who were in labor. This is practice is no longer common.
How is the procedure performed?
The person will be asked to lie on his or her left side.
The right leg should be bent up toward the chest. This position helps
the enema solution flow easily into the colon. The solution most commonly
used is a mixture of mild soap and warm water, and is known as a soapsuds
enema. This solution is placed into a small plastic container with a
flexible tube. Lubricating jelly is applied to the tip of the tube. The tube is then gently
inserted into the rectum about 4 to 6 inches. Next, the solution is slowly
released through the tube into the bowel.
A fleets enema is a small, prefilled enema with a
prelubricated tip. An oil retention enema is useful for hard stool, because the
stool absorbs the oil and is softened.
Preparation & Expectations
What happens right after the procedure?
After an enema, the person is asked to hold the solution
in the rectum for at least 3 minutes. After this time, he or she can
expel the enema while sitting on a toilet or bedpan. The results should be
evaluated to be sure that the enema was successful.
Home Care and Complications
What happens later at home?
If the enema was given for constipation,
the person should check his or her bowel movements for further constipation.
If the enema was given to prepare for surgery or for an exam,
it may need to be repeated. The goal of this type of enema is to cleanse
the bowel. It needs to be repeated until there is no fecal matter expelled
after the enema.
After a barium enema, the person will have white stool for a
short time as the body expels the barium.
What are the potential complications after the procedure?
Sometimes a person may feel faint while having an enema.
A more serious risk is a perforated colon, but this is very rare. A perforated
colon occurs when the tip of the enema pokes through the colon and
causes damage to the tissue.