Enemas are typically used to relieve constipation, cleanse the rectum and colon, and perform diagnostic tests involving the colon and gastrointestinal tract. While they all involve a liquid solution that is introduced into the rectum, the method of delivery and the exact substance used vary depending on the reason. The most common types are water, mineral oil, sodium phosphate, and barium enemas.
Home kits can be purchased over-the-counter at most pharmacies and drugstores. Using a home enema with a bulb or squeeze bottle filled with warm water widens the rectum, which encourages the colon to contract and expel the water and fecal matter. Water, in fact, may be all that is needed to relieve minor constipation.
Other home kits come pre-filled with solutions that help relieve more severe constipation. Mineral oil enemas lubricate the rectum and help soften impacted stool to help it slide through the colon easier. Sodium phosphate enemas work by stimulating water in the body to be drawn into the colon, helping to force impacted fecal matter out through the rectum. These are among the most powerful home solutions to relieve constipation, and they are also often administered prior to medical procedures and tests performed in the rectum or colon to clear the area for examination. Pre-filled kits are meant to be disposable and should not be reused with another solution.
A barium enema is given by a medical professional to prepare for an x-ray image of the large intestine. Single-contrast barium enemas involve a barium solution, acting as a contrast agent, that is introduced into the rectum to help the large intestine show up clearly on the x-ray film. A double-contrast barium enema includes the barium solution and also pushes air into the rectum to expand the colon to allow for a better picture.
Using an enema too frequently can damage the rectum and colon, so they should be kept for occasional use. Some people use other substances, such as coffee, apple cider vinegar, and soapy water, to cleanse the rectum and detoxify the body. Some individuals have reported positive results using these solutions as an alternative form of medicine, but they are not recommended by many health care professionals because of the risk of damage to the rectum and anal area.