There are rectal suppositories that are used. They are usually narrowed at one end.

Rectal suppositories can deliver many types of medication. For instance, they may contain glycerin to treat constipation or acetaminophen to treat a fever.

The medication from a rectal suppository works quickly. The suppository is absorbed into the bloodstream when it is melted inside the body.

There are more about the benefits and side effects of rectal suppositories in this step-by-step guide.

Rectal suppositories are used for administering medications when you cannot do so orally. Such methods may be especially helpful for young children and older adults who cannot take medications by mouth, according to a 2021 review.

For example, fever-reducing medications such as acetaminophen may be administered rectally if you cannot take the oral versions due to vomiting or other issues that might otherwise prevent you from swallowing liquids or tablets. Taking fever-reducing drugs rectally can also reduce possible adverse effects on the stomach and small intestine.

Aside from these medications, rectal suppositories have been historically used for the administration of substances including hemorrhoid treatments and laxatives. Other medications that may be administered via rectal suppository can include:

In some cases, medications may also be given rectally to individuals who may be unconscious, according to the same 2021 review.

There are possible side effects associated with rectal suppositories. Proper installation and follow-up instructions may help reduce the effects.

According to a 2019 review of research, certain health conditions that affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract may also reduce the effectiveness of the drugs being administered rectally, and even increase the risk of pain. Talk with a doctor about any history of IBD, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or other GI conditions before using rectal suppositories.

Note that you shouldn’t administer acetaminophen both rectally and orally, as this can potentially lead to an overdose and subsequent liver damage.

You can use these instructions to make your own rectal suppository. If you are a parent or a family member, you can use these steps to give a suppository to a child. If you have trouble giving yourself a rectal suppository, ask a loved one to help you.

Illustration by Alexis Lira

What you’ll need

You need soap and water or hand sanitizer to clean your hands to insert a rectal suppository. You may need a lubricating jelly and razor blade.

Before

  1. If you can, go to the bathroom and empty your bowels.
  2. You can wash your hands with soap and water. If soap and water are unavailable, use hand sanitizer. Dry your hands with a towel.
  3. If the suppository is firm, squeeze it to make sure. If it is, let it be held under cold water and hardened. You can put it in the fridge for a short time.
  • Remove your clothing.
  • Wrap the suppository. If you have to cut the suppository, use a clean razor blade.
  • “To make the tip of the suppository moist, apply a lubricating Jelly. If you don’t have lubricating jelly, apply some water to your rectal area.”

During

  1. Get in a position. You can either stand with one foot up on a chair, or lie down on your side with your top leg bent toward your stomach and your bottom leg straight. If you are giving someone a suppository, you may want to place them in this second position.
  • Relax and it will be easier to insert the suppository.
  • Insert the suppository into the rectum, narrow end first. Gently but firmly, push the suppository past the sphincter. The sphincter is the muscular opening of the rectum. For adults, push it in about 3 inches or far enough in so that it will not pop out. For children, depending on their size, push it in about 2 inches. And for smaller children or infants, push it in about a half-inch.

After

  1. Sit or lie with your legs closed for a few minutes. If you’re giving the suppository to a child, you may need to gently hold their buttocks closed during this time.
  2. Throw all used material in the trash.
  3. You can wash your hands with soap and water.

Helpful tips

  • Unless the suppository is a laxative, try not to empty your bowels for 1 hour after inserting the suppository. Also avoid exercise or lots of movement for 1 hour after inserting the suppository.
  • “The suppositories should be kept in a cool place. If the medication label says to keep them in the refrigerator, that’s fine.”
  • You can use latex gloves or finger cots to protect your fingers. You can buy them at the pharmacy.
  • While in the suppository, it is advisable to trim your fingernails to prevent cuts and scratches.
  • It is not advisable to use petroleum jelly to lubricate the suppository. It can keep the suppository from melting.

Overall, the recommended position for rectal suppository administration is on your side. This allows for easy access to the buttocks during self-administration but can also be easier for giving the suppository to someone else. For best results, lie on your left side and bend your knees toward your chest.

If the first position is not comfortable, or you are having difficulties with the suppository, you can try kneeling face down with your hips lifted.

You’ll know you have inserted the suppository far enough if the tip does not immediately come out. However, it’s also important to know the insertion depth limits, which can vary by age:

Age Group Suppository Insertion
Adults About 3 inches
Children 2 inches or less
Infants ½ inch

If the suppository comes out after you insert it, you may not have pushed it far enough into the rectum. Be sure to push the suppository past the sphincter, which is the muscular opening of the rectum.

The steps should make it easier to insert a rectal suppository. If you have questions or have trouble with a suppository, talk to a doctor or a pharmacist. If you have a history of GI conditions, or experience any side effects, you should talk to them.

“Taking rectal suppositories is an alternative to taking oral medications. If you or your child can’t take their medication by mouth, this method may be better.”

Follow the instructions given for rectal suppository insertion. This will help ensure the medication is administered correctly and will reduce the risk of side effects.

If you have questions about rectal suppositories or other issues, talk to a doctor.