Understanding bowel irrigation

What is bowel irrigation for bowel management?

Bowel irrigation has been used for many hundreds of years. Over recent years it has been more widely used as a bowel management solution to manage bowel symptoms. Bowel irrigation for bowel management is also known as transanal irrigation (TAI) for bowel management or rectal irrigation (RI) for bowel management.

The bowel irrigation procedure is straightforward. Bowel irrigation just involves instilling a small amount of warm tap water into the rectum through the anus and then allowing the water to be expelled, effectively emptying the colon. Stool and water pass into the toilet in the same way as a normal bowel movement.

See how bowel irrigation for bowel management works

Watch the video to learn about how the bowel irrigation procedure works

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Relieving chronic constipation and faecal incontinence

Use of bowel irrigation has shown that regular bowel irrigation can be an effective solution to prevent faecal incontinence and to prevent constipation. It can also reduce the amount of time spent on bowel management, leading to an improved quality of life, dignity and self-esteem. As a result, bowel irrigation is an effective treatment for those who have difficulty with regular bowel movements and can help to improve overall bowel health and function.

 The bowel irrigation procedure should be performed regularly (usually daily or every other day) to achieve full bowel continence, preventing faecal incontinence, and to prevent constipation¹. Bowel irrigation provides a reliable bowel management option, it is easy, quick, effective, and hygienic to use, allowing you to live life to the full and not worry about your bowels.

The difference between conservative bowel management and bowel irrigation for bowel management

Bowel irrigation goes beyond conservative methods and can reach further into the bowel by introducing warm tap water into the rectum, effectively emptying the colon.

When using conservative methods of bowel management such as manual evacuation of the bowel, only the distal part (the end part) of the bowel is generally emptied, as shown in Diagram A.  

When using bowel irrigation for bowel management, the bowel has been shown to empty to the splenic flexure (the sharp bend between the ascending colon and the transverse colon), as shown in Diagram B.

Therefore, using warm water bowel irrigation for bowel management can successfully empty your bowel so that a further irrigation does not have to take place for another 24-48 hours².

Diagram A:
The bowel before starting bowel irrigation

Diagram B:
The bowel after starting bowel irrigation

Reference: Christensen P et al. Scintigraphic assessment of retrograde colonic washout of faecal incontinence and constipation. DisColon Rectum 2003; 46:68-76

1 Reference: Christensens P, Colonic irrigation for disordered defecation, Doctoral thesis Aarhus University, 2009 

2 Reference: Shandling B & Gilmour RF 1987

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