What is the difference between an enema and a suppository?

Enemas can cause mild abdominal cramping.

There is a marked difference between an enema and a suppository, although both are used for constipation relief in some cases. An enema is a liquid that is inserted into the rectum through a nozzle attached to a plastic or tissue bag. Fluid is forced into the rectum through this device to relieve occasional constipation or prepare patients for surgery. A suppository is a small solid or semi-solid plug made from a certain type of medication. The most commonly used type is made from glycerin and is used to relieve constipation, although other medications can also come in the form of a suppository.


In most cases, an enema and a suppository are used for very similar things, and they work very similarly. Both the liquid found in an enema and the glycerin in laxative suppositories work to lubricate hardened stools so they pass more easily. Enemas generally work more effectively to cleanse the entire colon as they have a wider range and contain more medication with each use. Suppository laxatives, however, are generally safer and can be used for a longer period of time with fewer side effects. Glycerin, although solid, melts quickly once inside the rectum and provides lubrication for hard-to-pass stools.

A reusable enema bag.

It is important that patients do not use an enema and a suppository at the same time unless directed by a physician. Enemas can damage the colon if done too often. Suppositories are usually not absorbed by the body, but they cause rectal stimulation and this can cause problems of its own. If the rectal area is stimulated with a suppository too often, it may be difficult to have a bowel movement without the added stimulus. This can lead to dependence on laxatives for suppositories.

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Epsom salt, which can be used to make an enema.

Both an enema and a suppository can be used for different things. The same type of pouch and nipple device used for constipation relief can also be used for female douches or to perform a vaginal rinse for infections. Suppositories can contain several types of medication and can be used to treat certain other illnesses or conditions, particularly nausea, when an oral medication won’t stop.

Both an enema and a suppository can be inserted into the rectum.

If symptoms of constipation persist or worsen, patients should discontinue use of all medications and consult a physician. In most cases, suppositories have no symptoms, except for mild discomfort shortly after insertion. Enemas can cause mild abdominal cramping and a strong urge to have a bowel movement. None of the treatments should be used if constipation is accompanied by severe abdominal cramping, bloody stools, nausea, vomiting, or a fever without consulting a doctor.

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