Laxatives: Stool Shape And Size Impact

can laxatives affect the size and shape of stools

Laxatives are a type of medicine used to treat constipation and help people empty their bowels. They work by either softening stools or increasing their bulk with additional fibre, making them easier to pass. While laxatives are available over the counter, they can have side effects such as bloating, gas, stomach cramps, and dehydration. They can also interact with other medications and, in some cases, lead to laxative dependency. Therefore, it is important to take laxatives as directed and only when necessary.

Characteristics Values
Types of laxatives Bulk-forming, osmotic, stool softeners, lubricants, stimulants
How they work Softening stools, increasing bulk with additional fiber, stimulating bowel movements
Forms Pills, powders, liquids, syrups, suppositories, enemas
Side effects Bloating, gas, stomach cramps, dehydration, diarrhea, intestinal obstruction, electrolyte imbalance
Risks Interaction with other medications, worsening constipation, dependency, internal organ damage
Prevention Dietary and lifestyle changes, increasing fiber and fluid intake, regular exercise


Bulk-forming laxatives increase stool size

Bulk-forming laxatives are a common type of laxative used to treat constipation. They are often the first choice of laxative and are considered to be the gentlest option. They are also known as fibre supplements, as they increase the bulk of stools by adding soluble fibre to the stool, which draws water from the body into the stool, making it bigger, softer, and easier to pass.

The increased size of the stool stimulates the colon to contract and push the stool out. Bulk-forming laxatives include common brands such as Metamucil (psyllium), FiberCon (polycarbophil), and Citrucel (methylcellulose). These are available over the counter and are generally safe to use daily.

It is important to take bulk-forming laxatives with at least 8 ounces of water or fruit juice to prevent bowel obstruction and stay well-hydrated throughout the day. They can take between 12 hours to three days to provide relief, so it is important to be patient and not to take more than the recommended dose.

Side effects of bulk-forming laxatives are usually mild and may include stomach pain, bloating, or gas. However, some people may experience an allergic reaction or difficulty swallowing, breathing, or a feeling of a lump in the throat, in which case medical attention should be sought.

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Osmotic laxatives soften stools

Osmotic laxatives are a type of laxative that softens stools by drawing water into the intestines from the surrounding tissues. This helps to soften the stool, making it easier to pass. They are often used to treat constipation, which is characterised by hard, dry stools that are difficult or painful to pass.

Osmotic laxatives include products with active ingredients such as polyethylene glycol (found in Gavilax® and MiraLAX®) and glycerin (found in Colace Glycerin® and Fleet Pedia-Lax®). These osmotic laxatives work by pulling water from other body parts and sending it to the colon, softening the stool as it collects in the intestines.

Osmotic laxatives can also be saline-based, containing salts such as magnesium citrate or magnesium hydroxide (found in Dulcolax® and Milk of Magnesia) that hold water in the colon. These saline laxatives are a type of osmotic laxative and are particularly useful when there is no blockage in the bowels. They are often used as enemas to empty the bowel before invasive procedures or surgery.

Osmotic laxatives are generally safe and can be used for longer periods with little risk of side effects. They are a good option for people with chronic constipation, but it is important to note that they can take longer than other laxatives to work, sometimes up to 2-3 days. It is recommended that you do not use osmotic laxatives continuously for longer than a week without consulting a doctor.

It is important to drink plenty of water when using osmotic laxatives, as they can cause dehydration. They may also not be suitable for people experiencing constipation from dehydration.

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Stimulant laxatives speed up bowel movements

Laxatives are medicines that help people have a bowel movement if they are constipated. Constipation is when stools become hard, making them difficult or painful to pass. Laxatives can be taken by mouth in the form of liquids, tablets, or capsules, or through the rectum with suppositories or enemas.

Stimulant laxatives are a type of laxative that activates the nerves that control the muscles in the colon. They force the colon into motion, stimulating the colon to contract and push the stool out. They are available over the counter and include bisacodyl (Dulcolax) and senna (Fletcher's Laxative). They are recommended for short-term use only, for no longer than one week.

Stimulant laxatives differ from stool softeners, which work by reducing fluid absorption in the intestines, thereby increasing the amount of water in the stool. This results in softer stools that are easier to pass.

Stimulant laxatives are generally safe for short-term use, but they can cause abdominal pain, cramps, and temporary symptoms of fecal incontinence. There have also been reports of more serious side effects, including allergic reactions, electrolyte imbalances, and liver damage. Chronic use of stimulant laxatives may increase the risk of colon cancer and cause the bowel to stop functioning normally.

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Stool softener laxatives increase water and fat absorption

Stool softener laxatives, also known as emollient laxatives, work by adding a compound to the stool that increases water and fat absorption. This makes the stool softer and easier to pass. They are typically taken orally in capsule, tablet, liquid, or syrup form and are usually taken at bedtime.

Stool softeners are considered gentle medications with relatively mild effects, making them a good option for people experiencing temporary, mild, or chronic constipation. They are also often prescribed after major surgeries, such as heart surgery or hernia repair, to prevent straining during recovery.

It is important to follow the directions provided with stool softeners and not to take more or less than the recommended amount. Stool softeners should not be used for an extended period, as they can interfere with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Compared to other types of laxatives, such as bulk-forming or osmotic laxatives, stool softeners may take longer to provide relief, typically within 24 to 72 hours. However, they are generally safe for daily use and are less likely to cause side effects.

In addition to taking stool softener laxatives, it is recommended to drink plenty of water, eat a high-fibre diet, and stay physically active to help prevent and treat constipation.

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Lubricant laxatives coat the colon

Lubricant laxatives are used to treat constipation by making the stool slippery and easier to pass. They work by coating the intestinal wall and stool mass with a waterproof film layer, which prevents the stool from drying out and helps it retain moisture. This coating also makes the colon slick, preventing it from absorbing water from the stool, so it stays soft. As a result, the stool can pass through the colon more easily. Lubricant laxatives include mineral oil, which can be taken orally or used as an enema.

While lubricant laxatives can be effective in treating constipation, they may also cause some side effects. These can include anal seepage (the accidental passage of stool from the anus), pruritus ani (a persistent and intense itch around the anus), perianal discomfort (pain in and around the anus), and intestinal malabsorption. It is important to follow the instructions provided with the laxative to reduce the risk of side effects and to consult a healthcare professional if you are unsure or if you experience any adverse reactions.

Lubricant laxatives are just one type of laxative available to treat constipation. Other types include bulk-forming laxatives, which add soluble fibre to the stool to make it bigger and softer; osmotic laxatives, which increase the amount of water secreted into the bowels; and stimulant laxatives, which stimulate the nerves that control the muscles in the colon to force it into motion.

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