Laxatives: Stinky Side Effect?

can laxatives cause smelly gas

Laxatives are often used to treat constipation, a condition characterised by infrequent bowel movements or dry, hard stools. While they can be effective in providing relief, laxatives may also cause some side effects, such as flatulence or bloating.

Flatulence, commonly known as passing wind, passing gas or farting, is a biological process that helps release gas from digestion. It is typically odourless but can sometimes be foul-smelling. This unpleasant odour is usually caused by the consumption of certain foods or medications.

High-fibre foods, which are difficult to digest, can cause an increase in gas production as they take longer to break down in the digestive system, leading to fermentation. Additionally, food intolerances or allergies, such as lactose or gluten intolerance, can result in the body's inability to break down specific compounds, leading to the build-up and release of smelly gas.

Furthermore, constipation itself can contribute to foul-smelling gas. When stool remains in the colon for an extended period, bacteria act on it, leading to the development of odour and the production of foul-smelling gases.

Therefore, while laxatives can be effective in treating constipation, they may also contribute to flatulence, and in some cases, the resulting gas can be malodorous due to the factors mentioned above.

Characteristics Values
Can laxatives cause smelly gas? Yes, laxatives can cause smelly gas.
Types of laxatives that can cause smelly gas Bulk-forming laxatives, osmotic laxatives (e.g. polyethylene glycol), diet candies containing the sweetener sorbitol, magnesium-based laxatives (milk of magnesia or magnesium citrate), and stimulant laxatives (senna and bisacodyl).
Other causes of smelly gas High-fiber foods, food intolerances (such as lactose and gluten intolerance), certain medications (e.g. antibiotics, NSAIDs, antifungal medications), constipation, bacteria or infections in the digestive tract, and colon cancer.
Remedies for smelly gas Diet and lifestyle changes, such as eating smaller portions, avoiding trigger foods, increasing water intake, including probiotic foods, and avoiding carbonated drinks.


High-fibre foods

While laxatives can cause gas as a side effect, it is unclear whether they can cause smelly gas. However, it is known that certain foods can cause foul-smelling gas.

To prevent excessive gas when consuming high-fibre foods, it is recommended to gradually increase fibre intake, allowing the body to adjust. Additionally, staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water can help prevent gas and bloating. It is also important to watch your air intake by eating and drinking slowly and avoiding carbonated beverages.

  • Whole-wheat products: cereals, breads, and pastas
  • Oatmeal and oat bran
  • Vegetables: asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage
  • Fruits: pears, peaches, prunes, apples, figs, dates, and more


Food intolerances

Food intolerance is a very common cause of bad-smelling flatulence. Typical conditions that can cause smelly gas include lactose and gluten intolerances. In both cases, the body's inability to break down the relevant food substance causes smelly gas to build up and eventually be released.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose, a natural sugar found in dairy products, is difficult for many adults to digest. Lactose intolerance can result in smelly gas as the lactose passes through the digestive system and is fermented by bacteria in the gut.

Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease

Gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye, can also contribute to flatulence. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivities may experience excessive gas when consuming gluten. In both cases, consuming gluten can also contribute to a range of digestive issues, as well as headaches, fatigue, and mood issues.

Other Food Intolerances

Other food intolerances may also be the cause of smelly gas. Some people may have food intolerances due to diseases such as celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease that causes injuries to the digestive tract. People with celiac disease often have difficulty digesting gluten and may experience additional symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, and weight loss.

If you suspect food intolerances, it is recommended to see a doctor to test for these conditions and determine the exact cause. This will allow you to make any necessary dietary changes to alleviate the issue.

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Several medications have been linked to an increase in flatulence, with some causing gas to be more odorous than usual. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and antifungal medications are known culprits. Antibiotics can also cause smelly gas, as they kill off some of the "good" bacteria in the stomach that aids digestion. This disruption to the digestive process can lead to an overgrowth of other bacteria, resulting in a higher volume of gas with a strong smell.

Laxatives, which are often used to treat constipation, can also cause flatulence. Bulk-forming laxatives, for example, draw water into the stool to make it softer and easier to pass, but they can take several days to provide relief and commonly cause flatulence and bloating as side effects. Osmotic laxatives, such as polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX), hold water in the stool to soften it and increase bowel movements, but common side effects include gas, bloating, and nausea. Diet candies containing sorbitol, which can be used as a mild laxative, can also cause bloating and gas. Magnesium-based laxatives, such as milk of magnesia or magnesium citrate, are another option, but they can be dangerous if overused, especially for those with kidney or heart issues. Stimulant laxatives like senna and bisacodyl can cause dependency if used too frequently, as the bowel may stop functioning normally.

If you are experiencing smelly gas, it is advisable to review the medications you are taking and consult a doctor if you suspect any of them are the cause.

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  • Low fibre diet
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Changes in habits or lifestyle, such as travel, pregnancy, or old age
  • Intestinal function problems
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Eating a lot of dairy products
  • Certain medications, such as painkillers, antidepressants, and antihistamines
  • Neurological conditions, such as Parkinson's disease or multiple sclerosis


The most common symptoms of constipation include:

  • Difficult and painful bowel movements
  • Fewer than three bowel movements per week
  • Hard or small stools
  • Feeling that everything didn't come out
  • Feeling of a blocked rectum
  • Stomach ache or cramps
  • Bloating

Diagnosis and Treatment

To diagnose constipation, a doctor will take into account the patient's medical history, age, and the presence of blood in the stool, recent changes in bowel habits, or weight loss. They may perform a physical examination, including a digital rectal examination, to evaluate muscle tone and check for tenderness, obstruction, or blood.

Treatment for constipation typically involves dietary and lifestyle changes, such as increasing fibre and fluid intake, regular exercise, and allowing enough time for daily bowel movements. Laxatives may be prescribed if these measures are ineffective. Bulk-forming laxatives, which are generally the gentlest and safest option, draw water into the stool to make it softer and easier to pass. However, they can take several days to provide relief. Other types of laxatives include stool softeners, osmotic laxatives, lubricant laxatives, and stimulant laxatives.

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Bacteria and infections

The digestive tract relies on several components to break down food into usable nutrients, which are then absorbed into the blood. It also produces waste, which is passed through the colon. The digestive tract depends on its resident good bacteria to function properly.

At times, the levels of bacteria in the digestive tract may become imbalanced, potentially leading to an infection. This infection often causes smelly, excessive gas. When a person experiences this, they should consult a doctor as soon as possible.

A bacterial infection in the digestive tract is often accompanied by abdominal pain and diarrhea. Antibiotics can kill off the good bacteria in your gut, which may cause excessive farting or smelly farts.

One example of a tummy bug that can cause smelly gas is giardiasis. Giardiasis is spread through direct contact with infected people or animals, or from swallowing contaminated water, food or drinks. It usually goes away in about a week if treated, but it can sometimes last longer.

In extremely rare cases, excessive gas and smelly farts can be a marker for colon cancer. Colon cancer forms as polyps in the colon and sometimes the rectum, obstructing the bowel and leading to symptoms such as bloating and smelly farts.

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