Suppositories: What They Treat and How to Use Them

Medicine can get into your body in a few different ways. You can swallow a pill, drink a liquid, or get a shot. A suppository is another way to deliver a drug. It's a small, round or cone-shaped object that you put in your body, often into your bottom. Once it’s inside, it melts or dissolves and releases its medication.

Suppositories may not be the most pleasant product you’ll ever use. But they can make it easier to take medicine that you can't swallow or that your stomach or intestines wouldn't absorb well.

Types of Suppositories

Suppositories have a base made from substances like gelatin or cocoa butter that surrounds the drug. As the warmth of your body melts the outside, the drug slowly releases.

Different types of suppositories go into the rectum, vagina, or the duct that empties your bladder, called the urethra. Sometimes they treat the area where you put them in. Or the medicine absorbs into your blood and travels to other parts of your body.

Rectal suppositories go in your bottom. They are about an inch long and have a rounded or bullet-shaped tip. You might take them to treat:

Vaginal suppositories are oval-shaped. You can use them for:

Urethral suppositories are rare. There’s only one kind, MUSE, which men with erection problems can use to take the drug alprostadil. The suppository is about the size of a grain of rice.

Why Use Them

You might need a suppository if:

  • The drug you’re taking would break down too quickly in your digestive tract if you took it as a pill or liquid.
  • You can’t swallow medicine.
  • You’re vomiting and can't keep a pill or liquid down.
  • The medicine tastes too bad to take by mouth.

How to Insert Them

To put in a rectal suppository:

  • Go to the bathroom first to try to empty your colon.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  • Unwrap the suppository.
  • Rub a water-based lubricant over the tip or dip it in water. It will help you slide it in smoothly.
  • Get in a comfortable position. You can stand with one leg up on a chair or lie on your side with one leg straight and the other bent in toward your stomach.
  • Gently spread your buttocks open.
  • Carefully push the suppository, tapered end first, about 1 inch into your bottom.
  • Close your legs and sit or lie still for about 15 minutes to let it dissolve.
  • Wash your hands again with warm water and soap.

Continued

To put a suppository into your vagina:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  • Unwrap the suppository and put it into the applicator.
  • Lie on your back with your knees bent toward your chest, or stand with your knees bent and your feet a few inches apart.
  • Gently put the applicator into your vagina as far is it will go without feeling uncomfortable.
  • Press on the plunger at the end of the applicator to push the suppository in, then remove the applicator.
  • Lie down for a few minutes to let the medicine absorb.
  • Wash your hands again with soap and warm water.

Vaginal suppositories can be messy, so you may want to wear a pad for a little while after you put one in.

To put in a urethral suppository:

  • Go to the bathroom to empty your bladder.
  • Remove the cover from the applicator.
  • Stretch your penis to its full length to open the urethra, and put the applicator into the hole at the tip.
  • Gently push the button at the top of the applicator until it stops. Hold it there for 5 seconds.
  • Sway the applicator from side to side to make sure the suppository has gone in.
  • Pull out the applicator. Make sure there’s no more medicine in it.
  • While your penis is still pulled out, massage it firmly between your hands for at least 10 seconds to help the medicine absorb.

Problems You Might Have

Suppositories are usually safe. Yet there can be some problems when you take medicine this way:

  • Some of the medicine might leak back out.
  • Sometimes your body doesn’t absorb the drug as well as if you took it by mouth.
  • The medicine can irritate the spot where you put it in.

Ask your doctor before you use a suppository if you:

  • Have an irregular heartbeat
  • Have had recent surgery on your rectum
  • Are a man who's had prostate surgery recently
  • Are a woman who’s had surgery or radiation treatment to your vaginal area
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on December 13, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:

Hanan, Z. Pharmacy Practice for Technicians, 2014.

Karimi, R. Biomedical & Pharmaceutical Sciences with Patient Care Correlations, 2014.

Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Perfecting Clinical Procedures, 2008.

Mount Sinai Hospital: "Intraurethral Agents."

MUSE: "How to Use MUSE."

Troy, D. Remington: The Science and Practice of Pharmacy, 2006.

UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy: "Preparation of Suppositories."

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