There is a marked difference between an enema and suppository, although they are both used for the relief of constipation in some cases. An enema is a liquid that is inserted into the rectum using a nozzle attached to a bag made of plastic or cloth. The liquid is forced into the rectum through this device to relieve occasional constipation or prepare patients for surgery. A suppository is a small solid or semi-solid plug made from a particular type of medication. The most commonly used type is made from glycerin and is used to relieve constipation, although other medicines may also come in the form of a suppository.
In most cases an enema and suppository are used for very similar things and work in a very similar way. Both the liquid found in an enema and the glycerin in laxative suppositories work to lubricate hardened stools so that they pass more easily. Enemas generally work more effectively at cleaning out the entire colon, as they have a farther reach and contain more medication with each use. Suppository laxatives, however, are generally safer and can be used for a longer period with fewer side effects. Glycerin, although a solid, quickly melts once inside the rectum and provides lubrication for hard to pass stools.
It is important that patients do not use an enema and suppository at the same time unless directed by a doctor. Enemas can cause damage to the colon if performed too often. Suppositories are not generally absorbed by the body, but they do cause rectal stimulation, and this can lead to problems of its own. If the rectal area is stimulated with a suppository too often, it may become difficult to pass stools without the added stimulus. This can lead to dependence on suppository laxatives.
Both an enema and suppository may be used for different things. The same type of bag and nozzle device used for the relief of constipation may also be used for feminine douching or to perform a vaginal rinse for infections. Suppositories can contain various types of medication and may be used to treat certain other illnesses or conditions, primarily nausea when an oral medication will not stay down.
If symptoms of constipation persist or become worse, patients should discontinue use of all medications and consult a doctor. In most cases, suppositories are symptom-free other than mild discomfort just after insertion. Enemas may cause mild abdominal cramping and strong urge to evacuate the bowels. Neither treatment should be used if constipation is accompanied by severe abdominal cramps, blood in the stools, nausea, vomiting, or fever without consulting a physician.