Glycerol suppositories for constipation

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Glycerol suppositories should only be used to provide short-term relief from constipation.

If you are still constipated after three days, you should see your doctor.

Eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water and getting regular gentle exercise can all help maintain good bowel function.

Type of medicine Laxative
Used for Constipation
Also called Glycerin suppositories
Available as Suppositories

Constipation can be caused by a poor diet, not drinking enough water and not going to the toilet as soon as you feel you need to. Pregnancy, a lack of exercise or movement (such as being ill in bed) and some medicines, including some painkillers, can also cause constipation. However, many people take laxatives when they do not need to because they believe that they are constipated unless they go to the toilet every day. This is not the case. A useful definition of constipation is going to the toilet less frequently than is normal for you, and passing hard stools (poo) when you do go.

Glycerol suppositories are used to treat constipation. They can be bought without a prescription at pharmacies and other retail outlets. Glycerol is a mild irritant. It works by encouraging muscles around your back passage to contract. This helps you to go to the toilet.

To make sure this is the right treatment for you, ask for advice from a doctor or pharmacist before you start using glycerol suppositories if any of the following apply to you:

  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding. This is because, while you are expecting or feeding a baby, you should only use medicines on the recommendation of a doctor.
  • If they are for a child. This is because laxatives should only be given to children on the advice of a doctor or healthcare professional.
  • If you have severe pain in your abdomen or feel sick.
  • If you are taking any other medicines. This includes any medicines you are taking which are available to buy without a prescription, such as herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to a medicine.
  • Before you start using the suppositories, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside your pack.
  • Use one suppository when needed. It will take about 20 minutes to work.

How to use a suppository

  1. Remove the suppository from the wrapping.
  2. Most people find it helps to insert the suppository if it is moistened with a little tap water first.
  3. Using a finger, gently push the suppository into your rectum (back passage) as far as possible, pointed end first.
  4. Remain still for a little while to help hold the suppository in place. It will start to work in about 20 minutes or so.
  5. Wash your hands afterwards.
  • Unless you have been told otherwise by your doctor, laxatives like glycerol suppositories should only be used to provide short-term relief from constipation. If you are still constipated after using these suppositories for three days, you should see your doctor.
  • A healthy diet containing fibre (wholegrain breads and cereals, bran, fruit and green leafy vegetables) with several glasses of water each day and daily exercise are important in maintaining healthy bowel function. For people who have problems with constipation, food such as pastries, puddings, sugar, sweets, cheese and cake can make matters worse and are best avoided.
  • You can read more about how to prevent or treat constipation in the separate condition leaflets called Constipation in Adults and Constipation in Children.

Glycerol suppositories do not usually lead to side-effects, but on occasions they may irritate or cause stomach cramp. If you experience any other symptoms, speak with a doctor or pharmacist for further advice.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

Suppositories are for rectal use only. If someone swallows any, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.

If you are having an operation or any dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.

If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are suitable to take with your other medicines.

Never keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.

If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

  • Manufaturer’s PIL, Glycerin Suppositories 4 g; Actavis UK Ltd, The electronic Medicines Compendium. Dated February 2008.
  • British National Formulary; 66th Edition (September 2013) British Medical Association and Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Adrian Bonsall
Document ID:
3227 (v23)
Last Checked:
15/01/2014
Next Review:
14/01/2017
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