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How Effective are Suppositories for Constipation?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Suppositories can be effective for treating occasional cases of constipation. Laxative suppositories typically contain a prescription or over-the-counter medication that stimulates the movement of the bowels, makes the stool softer, or lubricates the anus to make it easier for a person to push a firm stool out. Some of these medications work within about a half hour of use and many are fairly mild. Most doctors recommend against using suppositories for constipation on a long-term basis, however, as doing so could lead to dependency or cause other health problems.

To use suppositories for constipation, a person usually lies on his side with one knee up near his chest and the other leg kept straight or slightly bent. He then inserts the pointed or rounded end of the suppository into his rectum. In most cases, suppositories are meant to be inserted, using a clean, dry finger, about 1 inch (2.54 centimeters) into the rectum. Once a suppository is inserted, a patient usually has to remain lying on his side for several minutes. This is usually done to make sure the suppository melts completely and isn’t accidentally expelled from the body; once it melts, however, an individual can usually move around normally.

The effectiveness of suppositories may depend on the specific medication they contain, as a stronger bowel stimulant may lead to a bowel movement faster than a milder one can. Some suppositories, however, are not stimulants but work as lubricants instead. This type of suppository lubricates the area and makes it easier to push stools out, but may not be as effective when stools are very hard. Some suppositories contain both a stimulant and a lubricant to stimulate bowel movements and make it easier for the person to push stools from his body. An individual may do well to ask his doctor for advice on which types of suppositories are most effective before attempting to treat his constipation.

Using suppositories for constipation often provides faster relief than a person could expect with an oral laxative. Many oral laxatives take up to 12 hours to work, but suppositories usually produce bowel movements in less than 60 minutes. They may also work in cases in which oral laxatives are less effective than desired. Suppositories can, however, cause side effects. For example, a person may experience abdominal cramping and diarrhea after using suppositories for constipation; some people may also experience nausea and irritation of the rectal area after using them.

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Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By anon992494 — On Sep 12, 2015

I've had good results with lubricant-only suppositories, as laxatives have too many side effects for me. They don't cause any urgency for me so are ok to use at anytime of the day. I often become constipated about a week before my period, and that is the main reason I would use them. The nice thing is that when I do use the toilet I don't have to push nearly as much. The stool is still very firm, but I'm able to let the bowel movement happen mostly by itself rather than sitting there and pushing.

Positions for inserting isn't quite as critical, just as long as it stays inside. I don't particularly like the insertion process as it is a bit dirty when you have to stick your finger inside, but oh well.

By indemnifyme — On May 03, 2012

I think that if you really need help with constipation, a visit to a doctor might be in order. It seems like there are a lot of options, so it might just be better to have a doctor help you choose rather than trying a bunch of different things.

Constipation can be caused by a lot of different things, so your doctor can also help you get to the root of the problem, so you won't have to use medications forever.

By JaneAir — On May 02, 2012

@JessicaLynn - Good point. Most laxatives do have some side effects. I tried senna laxative a few years ago hoping it would be a little less harsh than regular laxatives, but the side effects were the same.

That being said, I don't think the suppositories that are just meant to be stool softener and/or lubricant have many unpleasant side effects. But then, those suppositories might not be very effective if you're very constipated and need a stimulant instead. I think for a lot of people it might take trial and error to find the right medicine.

By JessicaLynn — On May 01, 2012

It seems like any product that is used to relieve bowel constipation can cause negative side effects. Both suppositories and oral laxatives can cause cramping and diarrhea.

Even natural laxative like senna tea can cause these side effects. So in the end, I think it comes down to choosing whatever product is more convenient.

Since most oral laxatives take effect more slowly than a suppository, time could be a factor. I can imagine if you're uncomfortably constipated you might just want to use a suppository and be done with it.

Or, if you have more time, you might take a laxative a few hours before bed so it takes effect in the morning.

By anon153965 — On Feb 19, 2011

I use suppositories. Within five minutes of inserting I feel stooling. I do not know whether they contain stimulant or not.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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