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Pewter enema syringe, London, England, 1822-1846

Enema syringes vary in shape and material but they are all intended to introduce liquids such as medications or purgatives into the body via the rectum – a once very common medical procedure. This pewter example is shaped so as to allow the enema to be self-administered. The bottom section of the syringe can be removed and replaced by a small cap – presumably to allow a full syringe to be transported without leaking its contents. In terms of administering therapeutic medicines, enema syringes were widely used until the mid 1850s, after which the hypodermic syringe increasingly became the drug-delivery system of choice.

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Glossary: enema syringe

A syringe for adminstering enemas

Glossary: rectum

The last portion of the large intestine that communicates with the colon above and the anus below.

Glossary: enema

A liquid injected into the anus. Enemas can be carried out for medical reasons, as a treatment for constipation, or as a way to give drugs.