What Is An Enema And Should You Get One?

Do not try this at home.


Mary Brophy Marcus |

TBH, there’s not much about getting an enema that sounds fun: Enemas involve pumping water or other substances through the rectum and into the large intestine in order to flush out poo.

Still, plenty of so-called “detox” programmes recommend at-home enemas as a way to clear out toxins in the body and decrease bloat.

But is that really a good idea?

Watch: What Your Poop Says About The Best Way For You To Lose Weight

What Is An Enema?

In medical settings, enemas are sometimes prescribed before a colonoscopy to clear the inside of the colon so that doctors can perform an exam.

They’re also occasionally used in people with severe constipation, says emergency department doctor Howard Mell.

“Sometimes they’re used when people have had surgeries and have a reaction to medication — pain medications and anesthetics are the two usual culprits — and become temporarily constipated,” says Mell. “We use enemas to get the body back to its natural process. But it shouldn’t be used as a daily or weekly regimen, only in unusual circumstances when severe constipation occurs.”

Watch: “How Often Should I Really Be Pooping — And What Can I Do About It?”

Should You Get An Enema?

Truth is, healthy people don’t really need enemas. But Mell says he gets why people think they might help. “Poo is smelly and has a lot of bacteria and they think, ‘If I can get that poo out, it will make me better,'” says Mell. “But in reality, humans have evolved over millions of years and the body knows how to take pretty good care of detoxifying itself on its own.”

Enemas can carry health risks, too, says Mell. He’s seen patients in the ER who have tried at-home enemas and have burned their colon from heat or caused severe irritation from chemicals and other ingredients (some people swear by enemas containing coffee, herbs or soap).

 

Watch: 7 Constipation Remedies Worth Trying When You Can’t Poop

You can even perforate the lining of your large intestine doing a colon cleanse, he explains. “If you do have a big mass sitting there, you can do damage. I’ve seen bowels actually rupture when a mass is present,” Mell says, noting that older people with thinning colons are more at risk.

Colon cleanses can also cause bloating, diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea and dehydration, according to the  — the opposite outcome you’d expect if you’re pumping water or other liquids into the colon. It can lead to changes in your electrolytes, too, which can be dangerous if you have kidney or heart disease or other health problems.

Still tempted? Talk to your doctor first. As embarrassing as it is to talk about poo with your doc, it’s better than ending up in the ER after an enema-gone-wrong.

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