An enema is a treatment that people use to flush the contents of the bowel out of the body. An enema can take a few minutes to begin working, but a person should stay near a toilet for roughly one hour.

Enemas can begin to work after a few minutes, but people may need to use the bathroom more than once for the next hour.

An individual uses an enema to inject fluid through the anus into the sigmoid colon. An enema can involve different fluids, depending on the purpose.

In this article, we discuss how long it takes for an enema to work and how to use one.

Pictured are various shots of a barium enema; how long does it take for an enema to work may vary.Share on Pinterest
A barium enema helps doctors see the outline of the large intestine.

People use an enema, previously called a clyster, to treat various conditions.

A person may vary the fluid they inject, the volume of the contents, or the retention period, depending on the reason for the enema.

Doctors may prescribe an enema to clear the lower half of the large bowel before a diagnostic test or for other medical purposes.

Some people will use an enema on a regular basis because they believe it enables general health benefits through detoxification.

It is best to check with a doctor before using an enema, as people have varying needs, and different products do not suit everyone.

According to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research, medicinal uses include:

  • administering medication for conditions such as ulcerative colitis
  • treating chronic constipation or other bowel conditions
  • preparing for surgery or diagnostic examination, such as a colonoscopy

According to a 2013 article, the concept of using an enema comes from the historical theory of autointoxication.

This theory suggests that toxins and other waste products of digestion collect in the colon from where they may reabsorb into the body.

Some people suggest that using an enema can reduce the time toxins spend in the colon and boost health, as a result. Others believe enemas may play a role in treating conditions such as cancer.

However, the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research state that evidence for the health benefits of using an enema for detoxification is limited.

They warn that other than for medicinal purposes, using an enema at home can be dangerous if a person does not do it correctly.

If a person chooses to use an enema at home, they should set aside enough time so that they do not rush the process.

It is best not to eat for at least 30 minutes before starting the process.

Most enemas will show results within an hour of the injection.

After injecting the fluid, the individual should lie on their back and try to hold it in for as long as they can. They will usually be unable to keep their bowels closed for more than 5 minutes.

Regardless of how quickly the enema works, the individual should stay near the bathroom in case they need to pass the contents of their bowels again for the remainder of the hour.

What to do if it does not work

A person may find that they are unable to have a bowel movement after using an enema. If this happens, they must seek medical attention. A doctor can examine the contents of the bowel and may suggest using a second enema.

Different fluids can go into an enema.

Some types of enema include:

Barium

A healthcare professional might perform a barium enema if they want to see the outline of the large intestine.

This enema uses a solution that contains barium, which coats the intestinal wall and helps to show the shape of the digestive tract on an X-ray.

Salt solution

If a person uses an enema for constipation, they will typically use salt solutions.

Sodium phosphate laxatives draw water into the bowel, softening the stool, making it easier to pass.

However, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), laxatives that use sodium phosphate can be dangerous.

This is because they can cause dehydration or abnormal levels of electrolytes in the blood. These potential side effects can lead to serious complications, including kidney damage.

Soap sud

These types of enemas can also treat constipation.

They typically include a mixture of water and castile soap, which is a vegetable oil-based soap.

According to one 2017 article, a soap sud enema is typically safe to use.

Mineral oil

Mineral oil enemas treat constipation.

According to DailyMed, a person should try to hold in the enema for 5 minutes.

Coffee

Though there is little scientific evidence to support this, coffee enemas are popular in treating:

However, a coffee enema can cause:

Warm water

Warm water alone can also work as an enema for impacted fecal matter.

A 2015 study on management of constipation in older adults suggests warm water enemas are safe. They may be a useful aid for individuals who are unable to tolerate oral preparations for constipation.

An enema can be available to use at a clinic, but many people use them at home.

There are a series of steps to follow for home use:

  1. Before starting, warm the enema in a bowl of warm water.
  2. Remove the lid from the enema nozzle, holding the bottle vertically to prevent spillage.
  3. Add lubricating jelly to the nozzle if this is a preference.
  4. Lie down sideways on a towel with knees pulled to the chest.
  5. Insert the nozzle roughly 7 centimeters (cm) into the anus and slowly squeeze the bottle to inject the contents.
  6. Remove from the anus and lie down flat, with the back on the ground.
  7. Try to keep the bowels closed for as long as possible, to retain the fluid.
  8. When the bowels begin to open, go to the bathroom. Do not worry if nothing passes at first.
  9. Stay near the bathroom for 1 hour, in case there is a need to pass feces again.
  10. Lie down if feeling faint or dizzy. After 1 hour, the effects of the enema should have worn off.

If complications arise, people can seek medical attention.

Enemas are typically safe and easy to use, providing a person administers them correctly, using sterile equipment.

However, if someone administers an enema incorrectly, there may be a risk of :

  • electrolyte imbalances
  • bowel perforation
  • inflammation
  • infections
  • bloating
  • cramping

Before a person uses enemas at home, they should consult a medical professional and follow any written instructions carefully.

According to DailyMed, if someone does not feel the urge after 5 minutes of using a mineral oil enema, they should try to empty their bowels.

If no liquid comes out after 30 minutes, they should call a doctor promptly due to the risk of dehydration.

Who should not use one?

Advice varies according to the contents of an enema, but most people should avoid using an enema if they have kidney or heart conditions.

Older people tend to have greater risks of adverse effects and should avoid using enemas unless necessary.

There are some risks with the use of enemas at home.

If issues arise, it is important to see a doctor promptly, before the complications worsen.

Side effects can include:

  • dizziness
  • feeling faint
  • stomach cramps
  • bloating

More serious side effects can include:

  • dehydration
  • electrolyte imbalance
  • bowel perforation
  • infection

Some of these complications can be life threatening. If a person is experiencing rectal bleeding, they should seek help at once.

An enema is a device that people use to clear the lower half of the large bowel. It contains fluid that goes into the colon and expels feces, after a short period of retention.

There are different purposes for enemas, ranging from preparation for a medical examination to regular detoxification.

People have been using enemas for different treatments for centuries, though there is little evidence of health benefits.

An enema will take up to an hour to work in total but will typically start taking effect after 5 minutes.

If adverse effects occur, it is important to see a doctor before they worsen.

Anyone considering using an enema at home should speak to their doctor first to ensure it is safe.