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What is a Retention Enema?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A retention enema is an enema designed to be retained in the bowel after administration to allow the contents of the enema to be absorbed through the bowel wall. After 30 minutes to an hour, the patient is allowed to void to release any leftover enema solution. This medical treatment can be provided at home or in a clinical setting, and it is advisable to do it in a bathroom or over a bedpan in case of leakage, a common problem during enemas.

Retention enemas can be contraindicated for people with certain conditions. People with severe kidney disease may be at risk of electrolyte imbalances if they absorb enema solution, and they should only receive this treatment under the advice and supervision of a doctor. Patients with a history of heart problems can also be at risk because enemas may stimulate the vagus nerve and cause arrhythmias. Patients who are bleeding or experiencing a prolapse from the rectum should also not be given enemas of any kind. Likewise, people with unresolved abdominal pain can be at risk because distension of the colon could be dangerous.

Small amounts of enema solution are used in a retention enema to make it easier for the patient to hold the solution as directed, and the solution is usually warmed for comfort. The solution can include a variety of compounds, depending on why the enema has been prescribed, and may be administered with a bulb syringe or enema bag. A retention enema can be uncomfortable for the patient because of the need to hold it, and it is advisable to situate the patient comfortably before beginning.

When mixing an enema solution, it is important to follow directions carefully. Enema products often come in a concentrated form and they must be diluted before use. In the case of a home enema, patients may want to consult their doctors to confirm that the enema is a safe and appropriate treatment for the problem. Enemas are not a preferred method of treatment because they can lead to weakening of the bowel muscles and other health problems.

If this type of enema is prescribed, patients may want to ask what will be in it, how it will work, and why it is being prescribed. Patients may also want to discuss alternative treatment options and their possible outcomes to get an idea of the choices available. In some cases, this retention enema is the best and most effective available, even though it can be unpleasant.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon346188 — On Aug 26, 2013

If you must use a retention enema, then some strengthening of the kegel muscles can help. Those are the pelvic muscles often touted as worth exercising for better sex. They are, among other things, responsible for holding your anus and urinary bladder sphincter closed since they all are tightened or relaxed together.

The more easily you can tighten up those muscles and keep them tightened up, the easier it will be to retain whatever you need to keep inside your large intestine for the required time.

By SalmonRiver — On Jul 13, 2011

There is a wide variety of retention enemas used for health. I have heard of everything from coffee to wheat grass being used. Homeopathic methods include using enemas to potentially help induce labor.

Coffee enemas are said to help with detoxifying the liver so it can better get rid of toxins on its own. This helps improve liver function. I have heard reports of these coffee enemas increasing a person’s energy. Maybe they are absorbing caffeine.

Wheat grass enemas are supposed to add friendly bacteria to the colon while also nourishing it. Wheat grass is supposed to be gentle and effective.

As for the possibility of an enema helping induce labor, it may be healthier or more natural than drugs, but it is probably one of the last things I would want while already having contractions.

By Andras — On Jul 12, 2011

If you are doing a retention enema at home with a water enema, I have heard the suggestion that it be done in the bathtub. That would eliminate (no pun intended) the concern of leakage as far as the water goes.

But, if you don’t make it from the tub to the toilet as smoothly as you’d like, there may be a concern of clean up. I wouldn’t want to have an enema start to work while I was in the bathtub.

The best way is probably to find a bed pan. If you can get some disposable protective bed pads, commonly referred to as ‘chucks’, they would be good for easy clean up and disposal.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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