What Is an Enema? - Definition, Types, Uses & Side Effects

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  • 0:02 What Is an Enema?
  • 1:03 Procedure
  • 1:53 Types of Enemas
  • 2:11 Uses
  • 3:02 Side Effects
  • 3:22 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bethany Lieberman

Bethany is a certified OB/GYN nurse who has a master's degree in Nursing Education.

In this lesson, you will learn about an enema, a device used in medical procedures where liquid is introduced into the large intestine through the rectum for the purposes of removing stool or performing a diagnostic procedure.

What Is an Enema?

Brittany is at the emergency room. Her stomach is distended, and she has not passed stool in three days, which is causing her a significant amount of pain. The doctor examined her and determined that she is constipated and needs an enema. Brittany has never heard of enema before; she is in a lot of pain but is unsure about the procedure. A nurse comes in with a bottle of liquid attached to a long tube and explains that an enema is an instrument used to introduce liquid into the large intestine though the rectum.

The nurse explains that normally after you eat food your stomach digests it, turning it into a liquid. The liquid is then passed through the intestines where nutrients and excess liquid are absorbed. This turns the liquid food into stool. If you're unable to pass the stool, more and more liquid gets absorbed making the stool hard and difficult to pass as a bowel movement. The liquid solution in the enema will help soften and liquefy the stool, which makes it easier to pass.


The nurse explains to Brittany that she will have her undress from the waist down and cover her with a sheet. She will position her lying down on her left hand side. The nurse says she will wash her hands, put on gloves and lubricate the tip of the enema to make the procedure more comfortable. The lubricated tube will be inserted into Brittany's rectum and the bottle containing the liquid will be squeezed so that all the liquid will be emptied into her colon (large intestine). The enema will then be removed.

Brittany should feel the sensation to have a bowel movement immediately. The nurse explains that it is best if Brittany waits as long as she can without using the bathroom so the liquid has a chance to soften the stool. Brittany agrees to have the procedure performed, but is curious about something: what exactly is the liquid in the enema?

Types of Enemas

There are different types of enemas. Most are made of plain water, but others contain solutions that help draw water out of the bloodstream back into the colon, such as sodium chloride or even baking soda. Others may include a lubricant, such as mineral oil or a cleansing agent, such as soap.


There are other uses for enemas besides constipation. They can be used to aid in procedures and visual studies, such as colonoscopies and CAT scans. They can be effective in evacuating the bowels prior to surgery or used to put radiographic dye into the intestines, such as barium, to allow for a better visual of the digestive tract.

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