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What to Know About a Soap Suds Enema

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 12, 2021

Many people experience occasional problems moving their bowels. When this happens you may feel bloating, gas, or other symptoms of constipation. Drinking more water and being mindful of what you eat can usually help relieve mild constipation. 

But if the situation continues it can lead to extreme discomfort and fecal impaction. You may need more direct intervention. One method of clearing stool when you cannot do so on your own is an enema. An enema is a mixture of fluid and either an irritant or stimulant. The mixture is introduced into your rectum via a tube to flush out any unpassed stool in your colon. 

One type of enema is a soap suds enema. A detergent is added to water in order to address constipation or fecal impaction. ‌‌There are over-the-counter enemas that you can administer at home. Your doctor may also administer an enema in a medical setting.

Constipation

Most people have bowel movements regularly. This can vary a lot between individuals. Some people go several times a day. Others only need to move their bowels every few days. Bowel movements are supposed to be easy. You should be able to pass feces without straining or discomfort.

Constipation is when you have trouble passing stool. The main symptoms of constipation are:

  • Three or fewer bowel movements per week
  • Small stools that are hard, dry, and difficult or painful to pass
  • Straining to have a bowel movement
  • Feeling like you haven’t emptied your rectum after a bowel movement

Constipation is very common. Nearly 80% of Americans will experience constipation at some point in their lives. Many will need help from a doctor to ease their distress.

Fecal Impaction

Long-term constipation can cause your unpassed stool to accumulate in your colon. It can then become a mass that you can’t pass with normal bowel contractions. This is called fecal impaction. Its symptoms include:

  • Liquid stool caused by feces that leaks around the impacted mass
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Feeling like you always need to move your bowels
  • Low appetite, weight loss
  • Malaise

Without treatment, you may experience dehydration, rapid pulse and breathing, fever, incontinence, agitation, and confusion. You should speak to a doctor if you think you have fecal impaction.

When Is a Soap Suds Enema Appropriate?

Most constipation can be relieved with over-the-counter remedies such as stool softener or gentle laxatives. Drinking plenty of water and eating high fiber foods can also be helpful with occasional constipation. 

You may sometimes need an enema to help restore normal bowel movement. You can ask your doctor if that’s an appropriate remedy for your constipation.

You will need to seek medical attention for fecal impaction to dislodge the mass of feces in your colon. Your doctor will examine your abdomen and do a rectal exam to confirm the impaction. You may also need imaging such as X-rays and blood tests to rule out other problems.

Your doctor may need to remove a portion of the impacted stool manually. They may administer a soap suds enema afterward. This enema usually allows you to pass the remaining impacted stool soon after.

Preventing Future Bowel Problems

Constipation is most often related to diet and lifestyle. Adults need 25 to 30 grams of fiber every day to promote proper bowel function. But most Americans only eat half that amount. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of dietary fiber. Adding those to your diet may help with digestion.

Here are some other lifestyle changes that can help prevent constipation.  

Fluids. Drinking plenty of fluids can keep stools soft and easier to pass. Beverages count as fluids. Soups, stews, fruit, and some vegetables are also dietary sources of liquids.

Exercise. Regular physical activity promotes the muscle contractions in the bowel wall that push stool out. Being sedentary can increase your risk of constipation.

Listen to your body. Waiting to defecate when you feel the urge can make it harder to go later. Go to the bathroom as soon as you feel that you need to go whenever possible.

Don’t overuse laxatives. You may become reliant on laxatives if you have gotten in the habit of taking them to help have bowel movements. Talk to your doctor about what to do if you are concerned about laxative overuse.

Constipation is a side effect of certain prescription medications. Ask your doctor for advice if this is a problem for you. They may be able to offer help on managing the issue.

Enemas are an effective method for relieving constipation or fecal impaction. Soap sud enemas are an appropriate treatment when used correctly. Be sure to talk to a doctor before administering one to yourself.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Harvard Health Publishing: "Constipation and Impaction."

Journal of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition: “Soap Suds Enema are Efficacious and Safe for Treating Fecal Impaction in Children with Abdominal Pain.”

NHS inform: “Constipation.”

Seattle Children's: "Enema Ingredients and Supplies."

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