Laxatives: Work-Friendly Or Not?

can I take a laxative at work

Laxatives are a type of medicine that can help treat constipation by softening hard stools or stimulating your bowels to move. They are available over the counter without a prescription, but they are not suitable for everyone. For example, laxatives are not recommended for children unless advised by a doctor. They can also be unsafe for people with certain health conditions, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Before taking a laxative, it is important to read the patient information leaflet to ensure it is safe for you.

Laxatives come in various forms, including tablets, capsules, powders, liquids, gels, and suppositories. They should be taken as directed to prevent side effects such as bloating, gas, or stomach cramps. It is important to note that laxatives should only be used occasionally and for a short period, and they should not be taken every day to ease constipation as this can be harmful.

Characteristics Values
What are laxatives? Products that help people empty their bowels
Types of laxatives Bulk-forming, osmotic, stool softeners, lubricants, stimulants, saline, guanylate cyclase-C agonist
How do laxatives work? Softening stools, stimulating bowel muscles, lubricating the colon, increasing water content in stools
When to take laxatives When constipated and lifestyle changes haven't helped
How to take laxatives Tablets, capsules, powder, suppositories, liquids, gels
Timing of laxatives Some work within minutes to hours, others take days
Precautions Not recommended for children, check with a doctor if pregnant or have health conditions
Side effects Bloating, gas, dehydration, diarrhoea, intestinal obstruction, electrolyte imbalance
Alternatives Increasing fibre intake, drinking more water, exercising, dietary changes


When is the best time to take a laxative?

The best time to take a laxative depends on the type of laxative you are taking. Laxatives are a type of medicine that can treat constipation. They are available to buy from pharmacies and supermarkets, or on prescription from a doctor.

Bulk-forming laxatives

Bulk-forming laxatives work by increasing the weight of your faeces, which stimulates your bowel. They take 12 hours to a few days to work. You should take these laxatives after meals with a full glass of cold water or juice, as hydration is an important part of the process.

Stimulant laxatives

If you are taking a stimulant laxative, an empty stomach can speed up its effect. Taking this type of laxative after eating may slow down results, so they should be taken at least one to two hours after a meal, once the food has been digested.

Stool softeners (saline laxatives)

If you are taking a saline option, like milk of magnesia or Miralax, it's best to take it at the end of the day, around bedtime.

Other types of laxatives

Some laxatives need to be taken at certain times of the day, such as first thing in the morning or last thing at night. If you are unsure when to take your laxative, check the medication's label for instructions or talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

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What are the side effects of taking laxatives?

Like any medication, laxatives can have side effects. The specific side effects depend on the type of laxative and the person taking it. Some common side effects of most laxatives include dehydration, which can cause lightheadedness, headaches, and darker urine. Dehydration can also make you feel dizzy and affect your vision.

It is important to drink plenty of fluids when taking laxatives, especially bulk-forming or osmotic laxatives, as these can cause dehydration. Laxatives should be taken occasionally and for short periods, and it is recommended that you stop taking them as soon as your constipation improves.

Serious side effects from laxatives are rare. However, excessive or prolonged use can cause diarrhoea, intestinal obstruction, and shifts in electrolytes. Long-term use has also been associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer, although more research is needed to confirm this link.

Some laxatives may interact with other medications, so it is important to check with a doctor before taking them if you are already taking other drugs. If your symptoms get worse after taking laxatives, speak to a doctor.

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What are the different types of laxatives?

There are several types of laxatives, each with a unique mechanism of action to treat constipation. Here is a detailed overview of the different types:

Bulk-Forming Laxatives

Bulk-forming laxatives, also known as fibre supplements, are often recommended as the first-line treatment option. They increase the bulk or weight of stools by drawing water from the body into the bowel, making the stools softer, bigger, and easier to pass. This stimulation triggers the colon to contract and push out the stool. Examples of bulk-forming laxatives include Fybogel (ispaghula husk), Psyllium (Metamucil®), Polycarbophil (FiberCon®), and Methylcellulose (Citrucel®). These laxatives typically take 12 hours to three days to take effect.

Osmotic Laxatives

Osmotic laxatives work by pulling water from other parts of the body and directing it into the colon. This process softens the stool, making it easier to pass. Saline laxatives, which contain salt to retain water in the colon, are a type of osmotic laxative. Osmotic laxatives include Polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX®, Gavilax®), Magnesium hydroxide solution (Dulcolax®, Ex-Lax®, Phillips'® Milk of Magnesia), and Lactulose (Duphalac®, Lactugal®). They usually take two to three days to work, while some saline types can act faster, within 30 minutes to six hours.

Stool Softener Laxatives

Also known as emollient laxatives, stool softeners increase the water and fat absorption in the stool, making it softer. An example of a stool softener is docusate (Colace®).

Lubricant Laxatives

Lubricant laxatives, such as mineral oil, coat the colon, making it slippery. This coating prevents the colon from absorbing water from the stool, keeping it soft and aiding in easier passage.

Stimulant Laxatives

Stimulant laxatives activate the nerves controlling the muscles in the colon, forcing it into motion to move the stool along. They are typically recommended when other over-the-counter laxatives have not provided relief. Examples include Bisacodyl (Dulcolax®) and Senna (Fletcher's® Laxative, Senokot®).

Prescription-Only Laxatives

In cases of chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or constipation associated with opioid use, prescription laxatives may be necessary. These include Lactulose (Duphalac®), Linaclotide (Linzess®), Lubiprostone (Amitiza®), Prucalopride (Prudac®, Motegrity®), and Plecanatide (Trulance®).

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How do I know which laxative to use?

There are several types of laxatives available, and the right one for you will depend on your personal needs and preferences. Laxatives are a type of medicine that can treat constipation by softening hard stools or stimulating your bowels to get moving so you can pass them.

The four main types of laxatives are:

  • Bulk-forming laxatives: These increase the bulk or weight of your faeces by stimulating your bowel. They usually take 2-3 days to work.
  • Osmotic laxatives: Osmotic laxatives draw water from the rest of the body into your bowel to soften stools and make them easier to pass. They also usually take 2-3 days to work.
  • Poo-softener laxatives: This type of laxative lets water into the faeces to soften it and make it easier to pass.
  • Stimulant laxatives: These stimulate the muscles that line your gut, helping them to move faeces along to your back passage. They usually take 6-12 hours to work.

Bulk-forming laxatives are generally considered the gentlest type and are the least likely to cause side effects. They are often the best laxative to try first, unless your healthcare provider recommends a different type. They include:

  • Psyllium (Metamucil®)
  • Polycarbophil (FiberCon®)
  • Methylcellulose (Citrucel®)
  • Ispaghula husk

Osmotic laxatives pull water from other body parts and send it to your colon. They include:

  • Polyethylene glycol (Gavilax®, MiraLAX®)
  • Magnesium hydroxide solution (Dulcolax®, Ex-Lax®, Phillips'® Milk of Magnesia)
  • Glycerin (Colace Glycerin®, Fleet Pedia-Lax®)
  • Lactulose

Stool softener laxatives are also called emollient laxatives. They increase the water and fat your faeces absorb, softening it. They include:

  • Docusate (Colace®)
  • Arachis oil
  • Docusate sodium

Stimulant laxatives activate the nerves that control the muscles in your colon. They include:

  • Bisacodyl (Dulcolax®)
  • Senna (Fletcher's® Laxative, Senokot)
  • Sodium picosulfate

Laxatives are available over the counter without a prescription, but they are not suitable for everyone. They are also available on prescription from a doctor. If you are unsure which laxative to use, speak to a healthcare professional.

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What are the alternatives to taking laxatives?

Laxatives are a type of medicine used to treat constipation. They are available over the counter in pharmacies and supermarkets, as well as online. However, they should not be the first option to relieve constipation.

  • Increase your fibre intake: Try to eat about 30g of fibre a day. Fibre absorbs water in the gut to form a gel-like substance that helps soften stools. Insoluble fibre does not absorb water but moves through the body intact, increasing the bulk of stool for easier passage. The following foods are high in fibre:
  • Chia seeds
  • Berries
  • Legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, and peanuts)
  • Flaxseeds
  • Apples
  • Prunes
  • Kiwi
  • Leafy greens (spinach, kale, and cabbage)
  • Add bulking agents to your diet: Wheat bran, for example, will help make your stool softer and easier to pass. However, bran and fibre can sometimes make bloating worse.
  • Drink plenty of water: Staying hydrated can help alleviate constipation by improving the consistency of the stool, making it easier to pass.
  • Take probiotics: Probiotics can help increase regularity while improving stool consistency and speeding up intestinal transit. An example of a food product that contains probiotics is kefir.
  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity can help kick your digestive system into gear.

If you have tried these lifestyle changes and are still experiencing constipation, it may be time to try a laxative. However, it is important to consult a healthcare professional before taking laxatives, especially if you are pregnant, have a chronic condition, or are taking prescription medication.

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