Laxatives And Blood Work: Safe?

can I take laxative before blood work

Laxatives are medicines that treat constipation by softening hard stools or stimulating bowel movements. They are typically used to relieve short-term constipation and can be bought over the counter without a prescription. However, it is important to follow the recommended dosage to avoid side effects such as bloating, gas, and stomach cramps. While laxatives can provide relief, they do not address the underlying cause of constipation, and prolonged use can lead to digestive issues and even worsen constipation. Therefore, it is generally recommended to make lifestyle changes, such as increasing fibre intake, taking probiotics, staying hydrated, and exercising, before resorting to laxatives.

Characteristics Values
Purpose To produce bowel movements
Overdose Occurs when someone takes more than the recommended amount
Overdose symptoms Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea
Overdose treatment Call your local emergency number or poison control center
Types Bulk-forming, osmotics, stool softeners, lubricants, and stimulants
Availability Most are available without a prescription
Side effects Bloating, gas, stomach cramps, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance
Use Take as directed to prevent side effects
Forms Pills, powders, liquids, suppositories, and enemas
Timing Depends on the type and how you take it; enemas and suppositories act within minutes to hours, while bulk-forming laxatives can take a few days
Duration Laxatives should only be used for a short period, typically 2 to 3 days
Precautions Do not use for more than 7-10 days, do not chew tablets, take with plenty of water, and consult a doctor if issues persist


Laxatives can affect blood test results

It is not advisable to take a laxative before blood work as laxatives can affect blood test results. The use of laxatives can alter the results of blood tests that assess kidney function, liver function, and electrolyte levels. This is because laxatives can cause dehydration, which can lead to an increase in the concentration of certain substances in the blood, thereby affecting the accuracy of the test results.

Laxatives work by drawing water into the intestines to help pass stools more easily. This increase in water content in the intestines can lead to a temporary state of dehydration if not properly managed. When the body is dehydrated, the volume of blood circulating in the body decreases, leading to a higher concentration of substances within the blood.

The increased concentration of substances in the blood can affect the results of certain blood tests. For example, blood tests that assess kidney function may show elevated levels of creatinine, a waste product that is normally filtered by the kidneys. Dehydration can cause a reduction in blood flow to the kidneys, leading to a buildup of creatinine in the blood. Similarly, liver function tests may show abnormal results due to changes in the levels of liver enzymes in the blood.

Additionally, laxatives can affect electrolyte levels in the body, particularly potassium and sodium. Electrolytes are minerals that play a crucial role in maintaining proper muscle and nerve function. Dehydration caused by laxatives can lead to an imbalance in these electrolytes, which can be detected in blood tests.

It is important to note that the impact of laxatives on blood test results may vary depending on the type of laxative, the dosage, and the individual's overall health. Therefore, it is always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any medication, including laxatives, especially if blood work is required.

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Fasting before a blood test

If you've been instructed to fast before a blood test, it's important to follow the directions given by your healthcare provider. Typically, fasting for a blood test means you should not consume anything except water for a set period before your test, usually around 8 to 12 hours.

Fasting is necessary for certain blood tests because the nutrients and ingredients in food and drinks can enter your bloodstream and impact the results of specific tests. By fasting, you can ensure more accurate results.

During your fast, you should avoid all food and beverages except water. Water is permitted because it hydrates your veins, making them easier to locate and draw blood from. It's a good idea to drink plenty of water before your test.

If you're unsure about whether you need to fast or for how long, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Don't wait until the day of your appointment, as you may need to reschedule.

It's also important to ask your doctor if you should continue taking any medications or supplements during your fast. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, you should take your regular medications as usual.

You can schedule your blood test for early in the morning to minimise the time you go without food. Once your test is over, you can eat and drink as normal, so consider bringing a snack with you.

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Laxatives and dehydration

Laxatives are intended to alleviate occasional constipation. However, they can cause dehydration if not used properly. Dehydration occurs when the body loses more fluids than it takes in, and it can have serious consequences. When you take a laxative, it pulls water into your intestines to help move stool through your digestive system more easily. This means that if you don't drink enough water, you can become dehydrated.

The risk of dehydration is higher when using certain types of laxatives, such as osmotic laxatives, which work by pulling water into the intestines. It is important to drink plenty of water when taking any type of laxative to avoid dehydration. Dehydration can lead to a range of symptoms, including:

  • Thirst
  • Decreased urination
  • Headache
  • Light-headedness
  • Diminished sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Tremors
  • Fainting
  • Blurred vision

In severe cases, dehydration can lead to organ damage and even death. It is important to use laxatives only as directed and to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after taking them.

In addition to dehydration, laxative abuse can also lead to other serious health problems, including electrolyte imbalances, mineral deficiencies, and long-term damage to the digestive system. Laxatives should only be used occasionally and under the guidance of a doctor.

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Laxative misuse

Laxatives are commonly used to treat constipation and are available over the counter without a prescription. They are generally safe for this purpose when used according to the recommended dosage for a short period of time, typically 2 to 3 days. However, laxatives are sometimes misused or abused, particularly by individuals with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa, but also by those seeking to lose weight or "feel thin". This misuse can lead to a range of serious health complications and even life-threatening conditions.

The health consequences of laxative misuse can be severe. It can cause a disturbance in the balance of electrolytes and minerals, such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus, which are necessary for the proper functioning of vital organs like the colon and heart. This can lead to improper functioning of these organs. Severe dehydration may also occur, resulting in tremors, weakness, blurry vision, fainting, kidney damage, and even death.

Overcoming laxative misuse requires working with a team of health professionals with expertise in treating eating disorders, including a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and dietician. Support from friends and family can also be beneficial during the recovery process.

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Natural alternatives to laxatives

  • Drink more water and stay hydrated. This can help alleviate constipation by improving stool consistency, making it easier to pass.
  • Eat more fibre, especially soluble, non-fermentable fibre. Increasing fibre intake increases the bulk and consistency of bowel movements, making them easier to pass. The recommended fibre intake per day is 25 grams for females and 38 grams for males.
  • Drink coffee, especially caffeinated coffee. Coffee stimulates the muscles in the digestive system and may contain small amounts of soluble fibres that help prevent constipation by improving gut bacteria balance.
  • Take Senna, an herbal laxative. Senna stimulates the nerves in the gut and speeds up bowel movements.
  • Eat probiotic foods or take probiotic supplements. Probiotics may help prevent chronic constipation by improving the balance of gut bacteria.
  • Try a low FODMAP diet, which can help treat IBS and may relieve IBS-related constipation.
  • Eat prebiotic foods, which improve digestive health by feeding the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • Try magnesium citrate, which is a popular home remedy against constipation.
  • Eat prunes, which contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that has a laxative effect.
  • Try avoiding dairy if you have an intolerance to it, as this can cause constipation due to its effect on the gut's movements.

Other natural laxatives include chia seeds, flaxseeds, kefir, castor oil, leafy greens, apples, rhubarb, oat bran, and kiwi.

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Frequently asked questions

It is not recommended to take laxatives before blood work as they can affect the results of the test.

Laxatives work by softening stools, making them easier to pass. Some also increase the bulk of stools with additional fibre.

Some common side effects of taking laxatives include abdominal cramps and dehydration, which can cause lightheadedness, headaches, and darker urine.

Yes, increasing daily fibre intake, adding bulking agents such as bran to the diet, and improving diet and increasing activity can help reduce constipation and the need for laxatives.

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