An enema is a treatment people use to flush out the contents of their bowels. An enema can take a few minutes to begin working, but a person should stay near a toilet for roughly 1 hour.

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

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

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 it takes for an enema to work may vary.Share on Pinterest
mr.suphachai praserdumrongchai/Getty Images

People use an enema, or clyster, to treat various conditions. Depending on the reason for the enema, a person may vary:

  • the fluid injected
  • the volume of the contents
  • the retention period

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 regularly 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 not all products suit everyone.

Uses

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

Using an enema at home can be dangerous if someone does not do it correctly.

People can speak with a doctor to discuss the uses, what to expect, and how to administer it.

Regardless of how quickly the enema works, a person should stay near the bathroom to pass the contents of their bowels for the remainder of the hour.

Usually, once a person stops passing stool of any consistency, the solution has worked through their body, and they would have cleared out all the remaining bowel contents.

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

It is best not to eat for at least 30 minutes before using an enema.

Most enemas will show results within an hour of use. After injecting the fluid, the individual should lie on their back and hold it in for as long as possible. They will usually be unable to keep their bowels closed for more than 5 minutes.

A person may find that they cannot have a bowel movement after using an enema. If this happens, they should seek medical attention. A doctor can examine the bowels, and they may suggest using a second enema.

A person may need to try lying on their back again to see if the fluid works its way to the bowels.

Doctors may also recommend using an alternative type of enema, as discussed below.

Different fluids can go into an enema. Some types of enema include:

Barium

A doctor may 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 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 bowels, softening the stool and making it easier to pass.

However, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), using more than one dose in 24 hours of sodium phosphate drugs may cause rare but serious complications, such as kidney and heart damage. This is because they can cause dehydration or abnormal levels of electrolytes in the blood.

Learn more about making a saline enema at home.

Soap sud

These types of enemas can also treat constipation. They typically include a mixture of water and castile soap, a vegetable oil-based soap.

According to a 2017 study, a soap sud enema is typically safe and effective for use.

Mineral oil

Mineral oil enemas can treat constipation. People can purchase oil enemas without a prescription from a local drugstore or pharmacy.

When using a mineral oil enema, a person should try to hold it in for 5 minutes.

Coffee

There is little scientific evidence to support the use of coffee enemas.

Some people use this enema as detoxification therapy to treat constipation, obesity, and pain relief.

However, a 2020 systematic review does not recommend people self-administer coffee enemas as a complementary or alternative treatment.

Warm water

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

A 2015 study on the management of constipation in older adults suggests warm water enemas are safe. Warm water enemas may be useful for people who cannot tolerate oral preparations for constipation.

An enema can be available at a doctor’s office or clinic, but many people use them at home.

There are a series of steps to follow for home use. A person should:

  1. Warm the enema in a bowl of warm water before starting.
  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 into the anus and slowly squeeze the bottle to inject the contents.
  6. Remove the nozzle from the anus and lie down flat, with the back on the ground.
  7. Keep the bowels closed for as long as possible to retain the fluid.
  8. Go to the bathroom when the bowels begin to open. A person should should not worry if they are unable to produce a bowel movement at first.
  9. Stay near the bathroom for 1 hour if 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, a person should seek medical attention.

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

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

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

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 adults 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:

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 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 retention period.

An enema will take up to an hour to work but will typically take effect after 5 minutes. If adverse effects occur, it is important to see a doctor before they worsen.

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