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What are Glycerin Suppositories?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 23, 2024
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Glycerin suppositories are a type of medication that is placed directly into the rectum in order to relieve mild to moderate constipation. Most of the time they come in a torpedo-shaped capsule. The outer layer has a gelatin cover that will typically break down shortly after it enters the body, revealing glycerin in either liquid or solid form. Glycerin absorbs water and can soften stool, making it easier for a person to pass; the capsules also provide lubrication that can help reduce straining. These types of suppositories can get faster results than many oral laxatives, but in most cases they only work for blockages located in the lower intestine. They are generally considered safe though some medical experts discourage regular use because people can sometimes become dependent, and also because excessive exposure to glycerin can wear down the lining of the small intestine over time.

How They Work

The main goal behind most suppositories is to soften stool and make it easier and less painful to pass. Glycerin is unique in that it is a naturally occurring substance made primarily of sugar and alcohol that dissolves quickly and provides exceptional lubrication. These sorts of suppositories are usually made of hardened glycerin that will melt once in contact with the body’s internal heat; some also contain liquid that is released once the outer cover dissolves.

In either case, the substance, if properly inserted high in the rectum, will stimulate the intestinal tract, absorb moisture from the immediate environment, and lubricate the way for stool to move down and out of the body. People usually take this sort of medication when they’ve been constipated for a few days or when surgery or other medical issue — childbirth is a common one — makes it painful to strain or push stool out naturally. It is best for mild to moderate blockages, and isn’t normally strong enough to combat serious intestinal issues.

Basic Usage Instructions

Glycerin suppositories must be inserted directly into the rectum, usually with one or two fingers. Manufactures often recommend that people use a glove coated with a water-based lubricant to push the suppository, which makes it easier to get it high up because it reduces friction; wearing a glove is also a good way to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. Ideally the suppository should be held in place for about a minute in order to prevent it from being forced out.

Many people find it helpful to lie down on their side and clench the anal muscles for several minutes after use to help keep the suppository in place. This may speed up the dissolving process. It’s also usually suggested that people wait at least 15 minutes before using the bathroom to get the best effect. This can be challenging because the urge to “go” gets tends to get strong when a suppository is in place. Still, even if people use the toilet and expel the suppository before the 15 minutes are up, they may retain some of the benefits and constipation could still be alleviated.

Different Kinds of Constipation

These sorts of suppositories usually only work to address constipation in the lower bowel. In most cases they works through direct contact, and as such they’re best suited in situations when fecal matter is hardened and difficult to pass near the rectal opening. If the blockage is in the upper gastrointestinal areas the glycerin may not do much at all, since it likely won’t be able to reach the problem. Oral laxatives are often better in these situations.

Risks and Warnings

Some experts have expressed concern that using these suppositories too often may create a dependence on them, to the extent that people may find it very difficult to have bowel movements without using one. Most medical professionals don’t recommend that people use these for more than about a week at a time. People who have constipation lasting longer than this may have a chronic condition that needs more aggressive treatment.

There are also some concerns in the medical community that repeated use of suppositories of any kind can damage the tissue lining the intestine and colon. This sort of damage is usually only seen with extensive use over a long period of time, but it is something patients should consider. Most suppositories are intended for adult use, too, and should not be given to children or infants without express direction from a medical care provider.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By SarahGen — On Feb 19, 2013

@burcidi-- When I use a solid bullet glycerin suppository, I keep it in for at least half an hour. I get the best results in this time frame although I know most people don't wait as long.

As for liquid suppositories, you don't have to keep it in as long because it's already in liquid form. The solid ones have to melt inside the rectum from the body's temperature. That's why it takes longer for them to work.

There are also gel glycerin suppositories now. I haven't tried them but I think those would require less time than solid suppositories but more time than the liquid suppositories.

By burcidi — On Feb 18, 2013

So what's the ideal amount of time I should wait after inserting glycerin suppositories for it to be most effective? Does the time differ for liquid glycerin suppositories?

By serenesurface — On Feb 18, 2013

I've never managed to wait the whole fifteen minutes for the glycerine suppository to completely melt.

In about five to seven minutes I get stomach cramps and the urge to go. It really feels like it's worked! But when I do, I realize it was just the suppository.

By SteamLouis — On Jun 14, 2012

@ddljohn-- Using two glycerin suppositories back to back might not cause any immediate side effects. But if you use them regularly and more than once a day, you will harm the lining of your intestines. Not to mention that you might become dependent on them.

Some people claim that glycerin suppositories don't cause dependence but that is not true. In addition to glycerin, suppositories contain a laxative. So they can cause dependence just as oral laxatives do. Even if you were to use a homemade suppository made of only glycerin, you can still become dependent on the stimulation it causes.

So it's not a good idea to use these every day or more than one at once. Suppositories are a temporary solution. I have never used them and my daughter used them twice when she had constipation as a child. The only permanent solution to constipation is changing your eating habits.

By ysmina — On Jun 13, 2012

@ddljohn-- I'm not a physician, so please don't take my advice to be fact. It's best to consult with your doctor.

However, I have used glycerin suppositories on and off for about fifteen years and know about them. The suppository you have should have dosage information printed on it. They almost always say to use a single suppository per day for adults. Separate suppositories are sold for children who are younger than six years old. And if the child is less than two years old, it's not safe to use them unless the pediatrician actually prescribed baby glycerin suppositories.

If you have trouble with the solid glycerin suppositories, you can get liquid glycerin suppositories instead. These sort of look like a small enema, but it's the same thing as a suppository except in liquid form. You insert the end of the tube into the rectum and squeeze the liquid into the rectum. It's a lot easier than solid suppositories. It's also less messy and there is no waiting. I think you will have better luck with these.

By ddljohn — On Jun 13, 2012

Hi, I have some concerns about glycerin suppositories and would like more information and / or suggestions if anyone has any.

First of all, what is the recommended dose of glycerin suppositories in one day? I usually use just one, but there have been a few times where the first suppository didn't do anything and I used a second one. Is that safe?

I also have difficulty keeping the suppository for fifteen minutes. I don't empty my bowels that quickly, but it's very uncomfortable, almost painful to wait for the suppository to melt. Is there something I can do to make the use easier and more comfortable?

And can a glycerin suppository for adults be used for children?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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