When it comes to taking medication, it can be administered in various ways for different reasons – in pill form or liquid that is swallowed, as a shot, or as a suppository. For women, a suppository is typically administered either via the rectum or the vagina where it dissolves and delivers its medicine to where it is most needed.
In this article, we’ll explain how to use a suppository, the difference between rectal and vaginal suppositories, and why suppositories are used.
What Is a Suppository?
A suppository is a form of medication that is inserted into the body either via the rectum or vagina. Typically made with a surrounding base of gelatin, cocoa butter, vegetable oils, or water-based soluble, this outer base is designed to dissolve once warmed by the inner body and deliver the medicine within.
The medicine released from a suppository can be used to treat the area into which it was inserted or it is soaked up into the bloodstream and transported to wherever it is required in the body.
Why You Use Suppositories
While it is admittedly not the most enjoyable way to take medication, suppositories are helpful and effective in several medical situations. For example, they are prescribed when the required medicine is too unpleasant to be taken orally, if the patient is vomiting too much to keep medication down, or cannot swallow medicine for some reason.
Suppositories are also used to administer drugs that could be destroyed in the gut or would dissolve too quickly in the digestive tract if taken in liquid or pill form. In suppository form, however, the medicine has a better chance of reaching the area where it is needed. Seizures and blockages in the digestive system are also treated with suppositories.
Different Types of Suppositories
There are three main types of suppositories, rectal and vaginal being the most common for women and the third is a urethral suppository, which is only used by men.
Rectal suppositories are usually bullet-shaped and an inch long with a rounded tip for more comfortable insertion via the rectum. They are often used to treat allergies, anxiety, constipation, hemorrhoids, high fever, itching, nausea, motion sickness, pain, and seizures.
Vaginal suppositories are typically a little larger and more oval-shaped than rectal suppositories and can be inserted using an applicator or by hand. More often than not, vaginal suppositories are used to treat vaginal infections, such as Boric Acid Vaginal Suppositories known to treat bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.
Vaginal suppositories are also used to soothe vaginal dryness and are sometimes taken as a form of birth control.
How to Use a Suppository (Rectal & Vaginal)
Although many people initially feel nervous about using suppositories, they are easy to insert once you are relaxed and prepared.
Steps to Insert a Rectal Suppository
- The first step, before handling the suppository is to find a position that feels comfortable for you. You can place one leg on a chair or lay down on your side with one leg straight and supporting you against the floor with the other leg bent toward the abdomen.
- Once you’ve found the position most suitable for you, use the bathroom and ensure your colon is empty.
- Then wash your hands well with soap and warm water.
- Once the hands have been washed open the outer wrapping of the suppository.
- Smear a little water or water-based lubricant over the tip of the suppository to help it slide in easier.
- Now find your comfortable position again, take a minute to relax, and use one hand to gently spread your buttocks.
- Slowly and gently push the rounded tip approximately one inch into your rectum.
- Close the legs and lie still in the fetal position for 10-15 minutes to allow the suppository to dissolve and do its work.
Steps to Insert a Vaginal Suppository
After inserting a vaginal suppository, women can sometimes experience a little dribble or watery discharge once the outer base has dissolved and the medication is absorbed. This is perfectly normal, but most women find that wearing a panty liner for an hour or two afterward ensures that any leakage does not show up on clothing.
- Before unwrapping a suppository, the first step is to experiment with a few positions to find the one most comfortable for you. You can try standing in front of a mirror with the feet a little wider than hip distance apart and the knees bent or lying on your back with bent knees against the chest and the chin tucked to see what you are doing.
- Find a towel to place under your hips to catch any drips that might occur after the suppository dissolves.
- Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water.
- Open the outer wrapper of the suppository and if using an applicator for insertion, place the suppository into the tip. If you are not using an applicator, apply a little water-based lubrication onto the tip of the suppository to help it glide in a little easier.
- Find your preferred position for insertion, get comfortable and take a minute to relax.
- Slowly & gently slide the applicator into your vagina (or guide the suppository with your finger) as far as it will go without feeling discomfort.
- If using an applicator, push the plunger to release the suppository and remove the applicator from the vagina.
- Remain lying down for 10-15 minutes to allow the medication to absorb.
Even though it is not the most pleasant way of administering medication, suppositories are highly effective in treating particular conditions like vaginal infections, seizures, constipation, and nausea.
While they are considered safe with little to no side effects, if you are considering taking a suppository it’s always best to speak with your doctor first, especially if you’ve recently undergone rectal surgery or vaginal surgery.
The Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Compounding Laboratory – Preparation of Suppositories - https://pharmlabs.unc.edu/labexercises/compounding/suppositories/
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – Bacterial Vaginosis https://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/default.htm
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – Vaginal Candidiasis https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/genital/
National Center for Biotechnology Information – Clinicians' use of Intravaginal Boric Acid Maintenance Therapy for Recurrent Vulvovaginal Candidiasis and Bacterial Vaginosis - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6878170/
Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy - Antifungal mechanisms supporting boric acid therapy of Candida vaginitis - https://academic.oup.com/jac/article/63/2/325/711176