Mild Laxatives: Safe Self-Medication?

can I take a mild laxative

Laxatives are a type of medicine used to treat constipation. They are available over the counter in pharmacies and supermarkets, as well as on prescription from a doctor. There are several types of laxatives, including bulk-forming laxatives, osmotic laxatives, stool softeners, lubricants, and stimulants. They work by softening stools or stimulating the bowels to get moving. While laxatives can be effective, they should be used with caution and only as directed to prevent side effects such as bloating, gas, and stomach cramps. It is recommended to make lifestyle changes, such as increasing fibre intake, taking probiotics, drinking more fluids, and exercising, before resorting to laxatives.

Characteristics Values
What they treat Constipation
How they work Softening hard stools or stimulating bowels
Types Bulk-forming, osmotics, stool softeners, lubricants, stimulants
Availability Over the counter, prescription
Forms Pills, capsules, powders, liquids, gels, suppositories, enemas
Side effects Bloating, gas, stomach cramps, dehydration, chronic constipation, intestinal blockage, electrolyte imbalance
Use Take as directed, don't exceed recommended dose

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Bulk-forming laxatives are considered the gentlest option for treating constipation and are often recommended as a first choice. They work by increasing the "bulk" or weight of the stool, which stimulates the bowel. This is done by drawing water into the stool, making it softer and easier to pass. They are also known as fibre supplements, as they add soluble fibre to the stool.

Common bulk-forming laxatives include psyllium (Metamucil), polycarbophil (FiberCon), and methylcellulose (Citrucel). They are available over the counter in pharmacies, grocery stores, and online, and are generally safe for healthy people. However, they should be taken with at least 8 ounces of water or fruit juice to prevent bowel obstruction, and it is important to stay well-hydrated throughout the day.

Bulk-forming laxatives are recommended as the first choice because they are the least likely to cause side effects. They are also often effective on their own without the need for additional types of laxatives. They are safe to use daily and can be taken for up to a week at a time. However, they can take 12 hours to three days to provide relief, so it is important to be patient and follow the dosage instructions on the label.

If bulk-forming laxatives are not effective in treating constipation, it is recommended to try an osmotic laxative in addition to or instead of the bulk-forming laxative. Osmotic laxatives draw water from the rest of the body into the bowel to soften the stool and make it easier to pass. Common osmotic laxatives include lactulose (Duphalac) and macrogol (Movicol).

If constipation persists despite trying different types of laxatives, it is important to contact a healthcare provider for guidance and relief.

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Osmotic laxatives draw water from the body into the bowel to soften stools

Osmotic laxatives are a type of medication used to treat or prevent constipation. They work by drawing water from the body into the colon, softening the stools, and making them easier to pass. This process is called osmosis, where fluid moves through a membrane to equalise the concentration of water on both sides. Osmotic laxatives are particularly useful for people who do not consume enough water and have infrequent, hard, and dry stools.

Osmotic laxatives are available over the counter and by prescription. They are generally used to treat occasional constipation, while other types of laxatives are used to treat chronic constipation. Osmotic laxatives include polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX or a generic version), lactulose, sorbitol, magnesium citrate, and magnesium hydroxide (Milk of Magnesia).

Osmotic laxatives can cause side effects such as nausea, bloating, cramping, flatulence, and diarrhoea. Overuse of osmotic laxatives can lead to dehydration and the loss of electrolytes like sodium, calcium, and potassium. These minerals are essential for regulating heartbeats, muscle contractions, and other key functions in the body. Therefore, it is important to follow the dosing instructions carefully and only use a laxative when needed.

If you have chronic constipation, it is recommended to see a healthcare provider to identify the underlying cause. In some cases, the condition can be improved with diet, exercise, and increased fluid intake.

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Lubricant laxatives coat the colon and prevent water absorption from stools

Lubricant laxatives, also known as emollient laxatives, are a type of laxative that coats the colon to help move stool through more quickly. They are oily laxatives that prevent the colon from absorbing water from the stool, allowing it to stay soft and pass more easily. Lubricant laxatives include mineral oil, which can be purchased over the counter.

Lubricant laxatives are typically recommended for immediate relief of short-term constipation. They are not suitable for regular use as they can interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Additionally, lubricant laxatives should not be taken with stool softeners.

Lubricant laxatives are just one of several types of laxatives available. Bulk-forming laxatives, for example, are generally considered the gentlest option and are often recommended as a first choice. They work by adding soluble fibre to the stool, drawing water from the body into the stool to make it bigger and softer. This stimulates the colon to contract and push out the stool. Osmotic laxatives, on the other hand, pull water from other body parts into the colon, softening the stool. Stool softeners, a type of emollient laxative, work by adding a compound to the stool that absorbs water, making it softer and easier to pass.

Laxatives are typically recommended for occasional or short-term constipation. They are available over the counter in pharmacies, grocery stores, and online, as well as by prescription from a doctor. However, they are not suitable for everyone, and it is important to consult a healthcare professional before taking them, especially if you are pregnant, giving them to a child, or taking prescription medication.

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Stimulant laxatives activate nerves controlling muscles in the colon, forcing it into motion

Laxatives are a type of medicine that can treat constipation. They are often used if lifestyle changes, such as increasing fibre intake, drinking more fluids, and exercising, have not helped. Laxatives are available to buy from pharmacies and supermarkets, or on prescription from a doctor.

There are four main types of laxatives: bulk-forming, osmotic, stool softeners, and lubricants. The first three types work by making your stool softer so it's easier to pass. Lubricant laxatives, on the other hand, coat your colon, making it slick for easier passage.

Stimulant laxatives, a type of laxative, activate the nerves that control the muscles in your colon. They force your colon into motion, stimulating bowel movements. You may need a stimulant laxative if other over-the-counter types haven't helped.

Stimulant laxatives include:

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

It's important to note that laxatives should only be used occasionally and for up to a week at a time. Stop taking a laxative as soon as your constipation improves. If your constipation hasn't improved after a week, speak to a doctor.

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Laxatives are available over the counter and on prescription

Laxatives are available to buy from pharmacies and supermarkets, and online. They may be labelled as laxatives, stool softeners, or fibre supplements. They are also available on prescription from a doctor.

There are four main types of laxatives: bulk-forming, osmotic, stool softeners, and lubricants. Bulk-forming laxatives are generally considered the gentlest and are often the best option to try first. They include Metamucil, FiberCon, and Citrucel. Osmotic laxatives include MiraLAX, Dulcolax, and Colace. Stool softeners include Colace, and lubricants include mineral oil.

If over-the-counter laxatives are not working, or if you have a chronic condition causing constipation, you may need a prescription laxative. Prescription laxatives are also recommended for those taking opioids, which can cause constipation. It is important to speak to a healthcare professional before taking laxatives, especially if you are pregnant, giving laxatives to a child, or taking prescription medication.

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Frequently asked questions

Before taking a laxative, it is recommended to try increasing your daily intake of fibre, drinking plenty of fluids, and exercising regularly.

Bulk-forming laxatives are generally considered the gentlest option and are often recommended as the first type to try. They work by drawing water into the stool, making it softer and easier to pass.

Bulk-forming laxatives usually take around 12 hours to a few days to provide relief.

Common side effects of mild laxatives include bloating, gas, and dehydration. It is important to follow the instructions on the medication to reduce the risk of side effects.

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