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Gettyimages.com/Blister of suppositories

As someone whose struggled with irritable bowel syndrome (and possibly small intestinal bacterial overgrowth—jury’s still out on that one) for over a decade, you can be certain that I’ve researched and tried just about every product and tip for that issue out there. My IBS symptoms tend towards constipation. My boyfriend who also has IBS suffers more from diarrhea. He asserts that his symptoms are worse than constipation but anyone who has my kind of symptoms know he is just wrong. Diarrhea is painful, yes, but only for a few minutes; constipation causes discomfort every second of every day. And, as a woman who is sensitive about having a flat, toned tummy (a concern that plagues females a bit more than men) I can tell you that I’d take my boyfriend’s symptoms over mine any day. But I digress: I want to talk about suppositories—items I rely on with some regularity. Here are things you should know about suppositories.

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They’re gentler than oral laxatives

Since you insert them into your rectum, suppositories don’t run through your entire GI tract the way an oral laxative does. That means they can’t cause an upset stomach, and have a much smaller chance of causing food related allergic reactions. If you’re new to laxatives in general, suppositories can be a nice, gentle way to go.

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They don’t speed up food processing

Oral laxatives can speed up the breaking down of food to a dangerous degree, almost making it so that your body absorbs no nutrients. To put it in simple terms: oral laxatives turn food into feces quicker than that should typically happen. Suppositories only extract feces that already exist, but that are stuck in the lower intestine.

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But the process is, um, intimate

Just know that inserting a suppository for the first time can be a rather intimate experience. In order for it to be effective, you have to really get it up there. So do use the gloves, and even some lubricant.

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They can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour

I would recommend staying home until the suppository has done its job. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, so taking your dog for a 30-minute walk after inserting your suppository isn’t the greatest idea. You don’t want it kicking in when you’re still a 15-minute walk from home.

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They don’t always work

Unfortunately, suppositories do not always produce a bowel movement. In my experience, if I’ve eaten a lot of my problematic foods recently (like fried or spicy foods) I just have to wait for my gut to work things out on its own, eat a milder diet, and have some tea. But it’s okay if it doesn’t produce a bowel movement, so long as the suppository itself comes back out.

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When they don’t work, they can make things worse

Another unfortunate side effect of suppositories is that, in my experience, when they don’t work, they can actually cause you to be even more backed up. I couldn’t exactly tell you why that is—perhaps the action of putting the suppository up there pushed the feces up higher, too—but I’ve heard a lot of people say they experience the same issue.

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They don’t always come out all at once

Here’s a little pro tip: your suppository may not come out all at once. I learned this the hard way one day when I took a suppository in the morning, had a BM, and later that same day had a large sneeze that sent the rest of the suppository flying out. Whoops.

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They can be good for travel

Suppositories have been a lifesaver for me when traveling. During trips, the change in sleep schedule and food options can cause me to become constipated. I can pack suppositories without any issue from TSA, because they aren’t liquid.

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Check them for cuts/sharp edges

Make sure your suppository is totally smooth before inserting it or you could accidentally create some cuts in your rectum. If there are any sharp edges, you can smooth them out with a knife.

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In a way, you can develop a reliance

Many doctors have told me that suppositories are not addictive. I don’t want to argue with the professionals but I will tell you that, from personal experience, these products can create some level of reliance. On a mental level, I began to tell myself I can always just take a suppository if I feel a little backed up. But you really should only take them infrequently, when you are very backed up—not just a little. Your body will work things out if you’re just a bit constipated.

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They don’t get everything out

Suppositories may not get everything out. They’ll do their best but, depending on how backed up you are, they may not produce complete and total relief. That being said, they can get the ball rolling, and help your body begin emptying out on its own again.

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Never insert a second one

If a suppository does not produce a bowel movement, do not insert a second one. Don’t insert a second one even if the first one has come out and definitely don’t insert a second one if the first one is still in there.

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Doctors have varying views on them

I’ve seen many doctors about my digestive issues and they’ve had a large range of views on suppositories. Some have told me it’s safe to take them as often as I’d like, while others said I should try to avoid taking them at all costs. I can tell you that I take a couple a month and they haven’t affected my overall health one bit.

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It’s a controlled dosage

The good thing about suppositories is that, there is no room to play with the dosage the way there is with oral laxatives. One suppository should do the job, no matter who you are, no matter how much you weigh, and no matter how often you use them. With oral laxatives, it’s possible to need more and more to feel an effect over time.

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You should still look into your diet

You shouldn’t rely on suppositories to fix your constipation issues. You should still consult a nutritionist to see how you can adjust your diet to naturally solve the issue. If your nutritionist believes something more serious is at play, like polyps or hemorrhoids, ask your doctor if you should get a colonoscopy or endoscopy.

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