Different Types of Suppositories & How They Work

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Doctor holding suppository for hemorrhoid treatment on blue background, closeup

Suppositories are a solid form of medication inserted into a body orifice, like the vagina or anus, that delivers drugs to the body. While rectal suppositories are the most common type, most can be inserted vaginally or through the urethra. 

Suppositories are often used if a person is unable to take medication orally. This form of medication can be used to treat the area of insertion or as a method of entering the blood and traveling to other areas of the body. Read on to learn more about how suppositories work and the different types that are available.

How Do Suppositories Work?

Suppositories are an alternative to swallowing a pill, drinking a liquid, or getting a shot to deliver drugs to the body. Suppositories are small in size and round or cone-shaped. Most are made with a cocoa or gelatin base that surrounds the medication. 

Suppositories are inserted into the rectum, vagina, or urethra. Once inside, the warmth of your body melts the base to release the medication and absorb it into the body. If you’re experiencing pain, discomfort, or have a disease in the pelvic region, using a suppository can deliver the drug more effectively to that area.

In other cases, some drugs aren’t able to be absorbed as effectively through the gut, could be destroyed through the gastrointestinal tract, or blocked while moving through the digestive system. Suppositories ensure the drug is appropriately absorbed. Some people may prefer or need to take suppositories due to difficulty taking medication orally, such as those who suffer from seizures or those who are unable to swallow pills for whatever reason. 

There are three different types of suppositories: rectal, vaginal, and urethral. Each can vary in what and how they treat the body, and each is shaped differently to meet the size of the entry point.

Rectal Suppositories

Rectal suppositories are inserted in the anus. This type of suppository is typically one inch long and round in shape with a tapered end. Rectal suppositories can be used to treat a variety of conditions such as allergies, anxiety, constipation, hemorrhoids, nausea, general pain or discomfort, seizures, and mental health problems.

To insert a rectal suppository, the first step is to clear the colon. Unwrap the suppository after thoroughly washing your hands in warm water with antibacterial soap. Using a water-based lubricant on the end of the tip will help with comfortable insertion. 

Find a comfortable position to spread open your buttcheeks for insertion. Comfort is key as this helps relax the rectum and avoids pain while inserting. Push the suppository, with the tapered end entering first, into the rectum. With your legs closed, sit or lie down for 15 to 20 minutes to allow the suppository to dissolve. 

Vaginal Suppositories

Vaginal suppositories are the same size as a rectal suppository but are in the shape of an oval. This type of suppository also comes with an applicator, just as a tampon does. Most often, vaginal suppositories treat vagina-related issues such as bacterial or fungal infections, vaginal dryness, or as a method of birth control.

However, vaginal suppositories can be used for treating similar issues as a rectal suppository. For example, Foria sells relief suppositories with CBD that are designed for vaginal and rectal use to target discomfort associated with menstrual cycles and pelvic floor conditions.

Inserting a vaginal suppository has some similarities to inserting a rectal suppository with a few key differences. Always start with clean hands washed with antibacterial soap and warm water. A vaginal suppository is best administered while lying down. Insert the applicator into your vagina as far as comfortably possible. Press the plunger on the applicator to insert the suppository and then remove the applicator.

Lie down for 15 to 20 minutes to let the suppository absorb. Vaginal suppositories can be messy, so you can wear a light-flow pad for a little while after insertion.

Urethral Suppositories

Urethral suppositories are rare and are used specifically in men to address erectile problems. These suppositories are much smaller than rectal or vaginal ones and are as small as a single grain of rice. Similar to vaginal suppositories, urethral ones come with an applicator.

Before inserting a urethral suppository, empty your bladder. Wash your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap. Uncover the applicator before stretching your penis to its full length to open up the urethra. Place the applicator into the hole at the tip and gently push the button on the applicator until it stops. Hold the applicator in place for 5 seconds.

Make sure the suppository has gone in by moving the applicator side to side. Pull it out and check that there is no more medicine in the applicator. Firmly massage your penis between your hands for 10 to 15 seconds to allow the medicine to absorb.

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