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Alternate Names

  • fleets enema
  • soapsuds enema
  • sodium phosphate enema
  • saline enema
  • oil retention enema
  • Rectum and Anus


An enema is a way of cleaning out the large intestine, also known as the colon or bowel. Various solutions are inserted into the rectum to soften the stool. These cause the colon and rectum to stretch and contract and helps the bowel to empty.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

Enemas may be given:
  • to relieve constipation. Enemas may be given at home by the person, a family member, or a visiting nurse.
  • to prepare for an exam of the rectum or colon, such as a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy
  • prior to surgery on the bowel
  • prior to certain X-ray procedures, such as a barium enema. A barium enema is a series of X-ray films that shows the colon after a contrast agent is inserted in the rectum.
Enemas used to be given to anyone having surgery and to women who were in labor. This is practice is no longer common.

How is the procedure performed?

The person will be asked to lie on his or her left side. The right leg should be bent up toward the chest. This position helps the enema solution flow easily into the colon. The solution most commonly used is a mixture of mild soap and warm water, and is known as a soapsuds enema. This solution is placed into a small plastic container with a flexible tube. Lubricating jelly is applied to the tip of the tube. The tube is then gently inserted into the rectum about 4 to 6 inches. Next, the solution is slowly released through the tube into the bowel.
A fleets enema is a small, prefilled enema with a prelubricated tip. An oil retention enema is useful for hard stool, because the stool absorbs the oil and is softened.


Tierney, Lawrence, editor, "Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment, 39th edition", 2000

Griffith, H. Winter. Instructions for Patients. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders company,1994.

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