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What Are Vaginal Suppositories?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Vaginal suppositories are one method of administering a drug to treat a specific disease or condition, or for contraceptive purposes. A suppository, which is a general term for a solid dose of medicine that is inserted into the anus or the vagina, can contain different medications, from contraceptives to medication to kill off yeast infections. Typically in a tablet form, vaginal suppositories often come with an applicator to help the woman insert the suppository into the vagina.

Medications for various diseases need to be able to act on the part of the body that is specifically involved in a disease or a biological issue. Oral forms of medication, such as tablets or liquids, have to get through the gastrointestinal tract and into the bloodstream before making their way to the specific part of the body involved. This can take time, and the medicine may also lose some of its effectiveness on the way through the gastrointestinal tract.

In contrast, drugs which are directly applied to the part of the body that needs it tend to reach the area fast. They may also reduce the risk of side effects on the rest of the body, as the drug may only work on one part of the body and not on others. Although some medications cannot get through the skin or other barriers into the target area of the body, others can. These medications may be suitable for use as vaginal suppositories for women with particular medical issues.

The vagina is a location of the body that is prone to infections such as bacterial vaginosis or an overgrowth of yeast. Typically, these infections only affect the genital area, and not others. Women may therefore find it more useful to insert a suppository into the vagina to treat the condition directly instead of taking oral medications, which may be less effective, and produce more side effects.

As this part of the body is a component of the female reproductive system, other applications for vaginal suppositories include contraceptive uses. In this case, a suppository may contain a medicine that can kill off sperm, and which a woman has to insert prior to intercourse. This form of contraception is not as effective as other forms of contraception such as oral contraceptive pills.

Often, a vaginal suppository product comes with an applicator to help place the suppository into the vagina. Instructions for the product may include lying down for a time after inserting the tablet, to prevent the dissolved medicine from running down out of the vagina before it can act on the body. Although the side effects of a medicine can be different depending on how they are administered, suppositories also carry side effects. These may vary according to the medicine, but special considerations for suppository methods include local irritation and unusual discharge from the vagina.

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