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Beginning in the 17th century enema apperatus was chiefly designed for self-administration at home and many were French as enemas enjoyed wide usage in France.

When clyster syringes were in use in Europe, the patient was placed in an appropriate position (kneeling, with the buttocks raised, or lying on the side); a servant or apothecary would then insert the nozzle into the anus and depress the plunger, resulting in the liquid remedy (generally, water, but also some other preparations) being injected into the colon.

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Because of the embarrassment a woman might feel when showing her buttocks (and possibly her genitals, depending on the position) to a male apothecary, some contraptions were invented that blocked all from the apothecary's view except for the anal area.

Another invention was syringes equipped with a special bent nozzle, which enabled self-administration, thereby eliminating the embarrassment.

As medical knowledge was fairly limited at the time, purgative clysters were used for a wide variety of ailments, the foremost of which were stomach aches and constipation.

Molière, in several of his plays, introduces characters of incompetent physicians and apothecaries fond of prescribing this remedy, also discussed by Argan, the hypochondriac patient of Le Malade Imaginaire.

Following barium enema administration, patients often find that flushing the remaining barium with additional water, baking soda, or saline enemas helps restore normal colon activity without complications of constipation from the administration of the barium sulfate.

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