How a Glycerin Suppository Works and What to Expect

Medically Reviewed By Kelsey Trull, PA-C
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A glycerin suppository is a solid form of laxative that can quickly relieve the discomfort and pain caused by temporary constipation. This over-the-counter medication is easy to use for both children and adults. Research shows that as many as 15% of people in the world are affected by chronic constipation. It is more common in females and adults ages 65 years and older. Doctors diagnose chronic constipation when symptoms persist for over 3 months.

This article will discuss what a glycerin suppository is, how it works, and ways to use it. It will also discuss any risks or side effects.  

What is a glycerin suppository?

Mother and older baby or toddler standing next to bathtub in bathroom
Guille Faingold/Stocksy United

A glycerin suppository is a solid form of laxative that is inserted into the rectum to quickly relieve temporary constipation. The glycerin melts at body temperature and the medication absorbs into the bloodstream.

The main component in a glycerin suppository is glycerol. This colorless, syrupy substance is used as an additive in many foods, cosmetics, and medications. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies glycerin as an additive that is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

What is the purpose of a glycerin suppository?

A glycerin suppository offers relief from constipation, which is when bowel movements become infrequent or difficult.

The typical frequency of bowel movements in adults ranges from three times per week to three times per day. For children, the typical frequency of bowel movements varies from once or twice daily to once every 2–3 days.

People may become constipated when they eat a diet that is low in fiber, do not drink plenty of water, or do not relieve themselves as soon as they feel the need. Pregnancy, a lack of exercise, and some medications can also cause constipation.

If you are constipated, you may have fewer bowel movements than usual, have hard stools, and feel like you are straining when you pass stools. A glycerin suppository like Fleet glycerin suppositories can help to ease these symptoms.

How does a glycerin suppository work?

Glycerin is a hyperosmotic laxative. It helps you pass stools in three ways:

  • It draws water into the intestines. The water softens the stools and makes it easier to expel them.
  • It stimulates the muscles around the rectum and makes them contract to expel the stools.  
  • It lubricates the stools, making them easier to pass.

How do you use a glycerin suppository?

A glycerin suppository must be inserted into the rectum. Although glycerin suppositories come in different shapes and sizes, they are usually narrower at one end to make insertion easier.

You can improve insertion by putting a small amount of lubricant (such as K-Y Jelly) on the rounded end of the suppository or by moistening the end with a little water.

For infants

Constipation is common in childhood. Between 5–30% of children have constipation, and more than one-third of this group develop ongoing constipation.

If you are helping a child by using an infant glycerin suppository, follow the package instructions or talk with your child’s pediatrician before administering the suppository. Generally, steps include:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  2. Place your child on their side with the lower leg straightened out and the upper leg bent toward the stomach. Alternatively, place your child on their side and gently bend both knees toward the stomach.
  3. Hold one buttock gently to one side so that you can see the opening of the rectum.
  4. Place the pointed end of the suppository at the entrance of the rectum and then use your finger to gently insert the suppository about .5 inches (in) or 1.2 centimeters (cm) into the opening.
  5. Hold the buttocks together for a few seconds to stop the suppository from coming out.
  6. Encourage your child to remain lying down for 15–20 minutes until the suppository stimulates their bowels.
  7. Wash your hands again with soap and hot water.

For adults

If you are using the suppository for an adult, or are using it yourself, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and warm water.
  2. Lay on your side with the lower leg straightened out and the upper leg bent toward your stomach.
  3. Using your finger, place the pointed end of the suppository at the entrance of the rectum and then gently insert it about 1 in or 2.5 cm into the opening.
  4. Remain lying down for 15–20 minutes until the suppository stimulates your bowels.
  5. Wash your hands again with soap and hot water.

What are the risks and side effects of a glycerin suppository?

Side effects of glycerin suppositories include the following:

  • loose stools
  • nausea or stomach discomfort
  • pain, burning, or soreness in the rectal area
  • skin irritation around the anus
  • small amounts of mucus in the stool

If you experience any of the following symptoms, contact your doctor:

  • severe stomach pain or cramps
  • bleeding from the rectum
  • no bowel movement within 1 hour after use

If you use glycerin suppositories too frequently, you may lose your regular bowel functioning. This will make it difficult to have a bowel movement without using a glycerin suppository.

Frequently asked questions

Some other questions people often ask about glycerin suppositories include:

What does a glycerin suppository do?

Constipation is a common problem among both children and adults. A glycerin suppository can make it easier for you to have a bowel movement.

How long should I keep a glycerin suppository in?

After inserting the suppository, you should wait 15–20 minutes for the suppository to melt and stimulate a bowel movement. Liquid glycerin suppositories provide faster relief for occasional constipation. Because the suppository is already in liquid form, there is no need to wait for it to dissolve.

Are glycerin suppositories safe?

The FDA classifies glycerin as an additive that is generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Glycerin suppositories do not usually cause side effects. However, some people may find that the suppositories irritate the area around the rectum or cause stomach cramps. If you experience any other symptoms, speak with your doctor.

How long does it take for a glycerin suppository to work?

A glycerin suppository usually works within 15–60 minutes. You should stay on your side for 15–20 minutes. This will allow time for the suppository to melt and give you better relief.

Summary

Glycerin suppositories are solid forms of laxatives. They can provide quick relief for constipation in both children and adults.

Glycerin suppositories work by drawing water into the intestine, softening and lubricating the stool, and stimulating the area. They have few side effects when used occasionally and as directed. However, continual use may lead to the loss of regular bowel function.

If you have symptoms of constipation that last more than a week, talk with your primary care doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: Kelsey Trull, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 10
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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