Glycerin Suppositories

img2It’s not something anyone wants to talk about, but it happens, it’s completely natural, and it’s a pain. Constipation plagues about 2 percent of the population, more common among women and the elderly, and can be a painful, uncomfortable and embarrassing thing to have to endure. Fortunately, it is rarely serious and there are several time-tested treatments that can have you feeling better in a relatively short period of time. One of the most direct and fast acting of these treatments is the glycerin suppository. They’ve been used seemingly since the dawn of modern medicine, and while not the most pleasant experience in the world, they get the job done.

About Constipation

Constipation describes when a patient finds bowel movements to be less frequent or more difficult. This is relative, because the frequency of bowel movements can vary greatly from person to person. However, it is a good rule of thumb that three days without a bowel movement is too long. Constipation is also marked by swelling, pain or abdominal discomfort.

The causes range greatly, but are often lifestyle-related. Inadequate hydration, lack of fiber in diet, too much dairy, lack of exercise, and erratic eating habits can all cause constipation. So can mental or emotional factors such as periods of stress. Pregnant women also commonly experience periods of constipation. While it is usually not a serious condition, it can sometimes be a symptom of more chronic health problems, like irritable bowel syndrome, or even more serious problems like colon cancer or hypothyroidism. That said, constipation is rarely serious and can usually be treated very effectively.

Treatment Options

There are a number of natural and unobtrusive ways to treat the problem. Most constipation treatments are lifestyle or diet based so, for example, the simplest treatment is just drinking a lot of water. Sometime dehydration can constipate, so upping your water intake can help. There are also foods that can help, such as fruits and vegetables, or foods that are high in fiber like prunes or bran. Exercise, drinking warm fluids in the mornings and just keeping close watch of bowel movements can also be therapeutic.

The remaining treatments, laxatives, are intended only for occasional constipation or temporary use in the darkest hours. These include fiber supplements, stimulants that cause rhythmic contractions in the bowels, lubricants such as oils to move things along, and stool softeners. Most of these are taken orally, and therefore take a while to kick in, but are quite effective.

Why Glycerin Suppositories?

For those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar, a suppository is a solid medication taken…not orally. Suppositories, depending on the medication, can be inserted rectally or vaginally, and in the case of the former, is usually a way for the body to absorb medication through the blood vessels in the large intestine.

Glycerin suppositories are capsules made up of 80% glycerin, water and inactive ingredients. They also come in liquid form with an applicator bottle. Glycerin (glycerine or glycerol) is a common, nontoxic substance used in pharmaceuticals, foods and other applications. The suppositories are effective and work pretty quickly, but are best to use only as a last resort when other, milder treatments don’t work. They should be used only occasionally (see precautions below) and can have some side effects.

Glycerin suppositories work because they have a hyperosmotic effect on the lower intestine. When inserted, they melt and then draw water into the intestines. This usually will trigger a bowel movement within 5 minutes to an hour.

Proper Use

Hopefully this is needless to say, but suppositories should only be used rectally. The capsule can be chilled in the refrigerator if it’s too soft to insert, and then run under lukewarm water to moisten. Do not use any other kind of lubricant. Lay on your side with one knee bent and insert all the way into the rectum. Stay in this position and wait for the urge to have a bowel movement. Be sure to wash your hands before using the bathroom and then after. Hopefully this is also needless to say, but don’t use glycerin suppositories unless you are prepared to be near a bathroom in the immediate future. In other words, don’t use one if you have any big plans for the evening.

Side Effects

Glycerin suppositories are safe to use occasionally, but there are some side effects. For example, they most commonly cause burning or irritation in the rectum, which will go away not long after the bowel movement in most cases. Some people report abdominal pain or cramping before the bowel movement.

While not common, there is the possibility of dehydration or persistent diarrhea, or the continuing urge to have a bowel movement. This isn’t a complete list of potential side effects, so heed the indications on the package, and if there are any severe or abnormal side effects, contact a doctor immediately. If there are signs of allergic reaction, such as hives or anal bleeding, also call your doctor immediately.


First off, this article is not meant to substitute for professional medical advice, so please consult a doctor or pharmacist before using these supplements, and pay close attention to each individual pharmaceutical’s indications, as the ingredients vary. The most important thing to remember is that these supplements are meant to be taken only occasionally. Don’t take one more than once a day, and if you have chronic health issues or are on other regular medications, check with a doctor before using. If they are taken too often, they can lead a patient to become dependent on them for having bowel movements, or more severe dehydration or diarrhea. Similar advice should be followed if you are pregnant, a senior, or when dealing with infants and children. Seniors and young people tend to be more sensitive to the effects of rectal laxatives. While there are infant suppositories available, they should be used with caution. And while pregnancy can cause constipation, suppositories should be used only as a last resort.


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