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Int J Gen Med. 2013 Apr 26;6:323-8. doi: 10.2147/IJGM.S44417. Print 2013.

Perforation and mortality after cleansing enema for acute constipation are not rare but are preventable.

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Risk Management and Quality Assurance, Beilinson Hospital and Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.



Constipation is a common complaint, frequently treated with cleansing enema. Enemas can be very effective but may cause serious adverse events, such as perforation or metabolic derangement. Our aim was to evaluate the outcome of the use of cleansing enema for acute constipation and to assess adverse events within 30 days of therapy.


We performed a two-phase study: an initial retrospective and descriptive study in 2010, followed by a prospective study after intervention, in 2011. According to the results of the first phase we established guidelines for the treatment of constipation in the Emergency Department and then used these in the second phase.


There were 269 and 286 cases of severe constipation in the first and second periods of the study, respectively. In the first study period, only FleetĀ® Enema was used, and in the second, this was changed to Easy Go enema (free of sodium phosphate). There was a 19.2% decrease in the total use of enema, in the second period of the study (P < 0.0001). Adverse events and especially, the perforation rate and the 30-day mortality in patients with constipation decreased significantly in the second phase: 3 (1.4%) versus 0 (P = 0.0001) and 8 (3.9%) versus 2 (0.7%) (P = 0.0001), for perforation and death in the first and second period of the study, respectively.


Enema for the treatment of acute constipation is not without adverse events, especially in the elderly, and should be applied carefully. Perforation, hyperphosphatemia (after Fleet Enema), and sepsis may cause death in up to 4% of cases. Guidelines for the treatment of acute constipation and for enema administration are urgently needed.


dementia; elderly; obstipation; phospho-soda

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