Laxatives: Friend Or Foe Of Trapped Wind?

can laxatives help trapped wind

Laxatives are a type of medicine used to treat constipation. They are available over the counter and on prescription from a doctor. There are four main types of laxatives: bulk-forming, osmotic, stimulant, and stool softener. While laxatives can be effective in treating constipation, they are not typically recommended for trapped wind. Trapped wind is caused by a build-up of gas in the intestines, which can be relieved through dietary and lifestyle changes, such as avoiding gassy foods, exercising regularly, and improving digestion. However, in some cases, laxatives may be suggested to treat constipation associated with trapped wind, but this should be done under medical supervision.

Characteristics Values
What are laxatives? A type of medicine that can treat constipation and help empty your bowels if you're having trouble going to the toilet.
When to use laxatives If lifestyle changes such as increasing fibre intake, drinking plenty of fluids and taking regular exercise have not helped.
Types of laxatives Bulk-forming, osmotic, stimulant, and stool softener.
How do laxatives work? By increasing the bulk of stools, softening stools, stimulating nerves that control muscles lining the digestive tract, and adding moisture to stools.
How to take laxatives Available as tablets, capsules, sachets of powder, suppositories, liquids, or gels. Some are designed to be taken at specific times of the day.
Precautions Not suitable for everyone, especially children, people with certain health conditions, and during pregnancy or breastfeeding. May cause side effects such as dehydration, diarrhoea, intestinal obstruction, and unbalanced salt and mineral levels.
Alternatives to laxatives Increasing fibre intake, adding bulking agents, drinking plenty of water, and exercising regularly.


Bulk-forming laxatives

When to Use Them

Side Effects

Although bulk-forming laxatives are generally safe for healthy people, they can cause side effects such as mild stomach pain, bloating, gas, and difficulty swallowing. People with kidney disease or diabetes are at a higher risk of electrolyte imbalances when taking laxatives, so it is important to consult a doctor before use if you have either of these conditions.

How to Take Them

It is important to take bulk-forming laxatives with at least 8 ounces of water or fruit juice to prevent bowel obstruction. Staying well-hydrated throughout the day is also important. Following the dosage instructions on the label is crucial, and it is recommended to stop taking the laxative when your constipation improves.

Examples of Bulk-Forming Laxatives

  • Psyllium (Metamucil)
  • Polycarbophil (FiberCon)
  • Methylcellulose (Citrucel)
  • Fybogel (ispaghula husk)
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Osmotic laxatives

The term "osmotic" refers to the movement of a fluid through a membrane so that the concentration is equal on both sides. In people with constipation, the concentration of water in the wall of the colon and the inside of the colon will be balanced but too low to compensate for hard, dry stools. Osmotic laxatives alter the balance with substances—such as salts, sugars, and other organic compounds—that encourage the movement of water into the lumen.

There are several common osmotic laxatives available, each with different active ingredients. These include:

  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG): An organic compound derived from petroleum that can be safely ingested to manage constipation. PEG-containing laxatives are available over the counter, including Miralax and GlycoLax.
  • Lactulose: A type of sugar that is not absorbed by the intestine. Instead, it sits and ferments in the intestines, producing fatty acids that draw water into the lumen. Lactulose-containing laxatives are available by prescription, including Cephulac, Duphalac, and Kristalose.
  • Sorbitol: Another non-absorbable sugar with an action similar to lactulose. Sorbitol is available in over-the-counter and prescription versions, such as Arlex and GeriCare.
  • Magnesium citrate: Magnesium in salt form combined with citric acid. The salts help draw water into the lumen. OTC versions include Citrate of Magnesia, Citroma, and LiquiPrep.
  • Magnesium hydroxide: A milder form of magnesium sold under the brand name Milk of Magnesia. Milk of Magnesia is available over the counter and is also used as an antacid.
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Stimulant laxatives

Laxatives should ideally only be taken occasionally and for up to a week at a time. If your constipation has not improved after taking laxatives for a week, speak to a doctor.

Laxatives can be taken in the form of tablets or capsules, sachets of powder that are mixed with water, suppositories, or liquids or gels that are placed directly into the bottom.

While laxatives can help treat constipation, they are not suitable for everyone. They are not usually recommended for children or people with certain health conditions, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

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Stool softener laxatives

Stool softeners are a type of laxative called an emollient laxative. This means that all stool softeners are laxatives, but not all laxatives are stool softeners. Stool softeners work by adding moisture to stools to make them softer and easier to pass. They are available in capsule, tablet, liquid, and syrup form and are usually taken at bedtime.

The active ingredients in stool softeners are docusate sodium and docusate calcium. These ingredients help to wet and soften the stool. Stool softeners are gentle enough to be used regularly to prevent constipation. However, they are the least effective option for treating constipation. They are best suited for people with temporary or mild, chronic constipation.

It's important to note that stool softeners should be taken exactly as directed. Taking more or less than the prescribed amount or taking them more frequently than recommended can be harmful. Stool softeners are generally safe for people aged 12 years and older. However, if you are considering giving a laxative to a child under 12, it is important to consult a doctor first.

If you are experiencing constipation, it is recommended to try lifestyle changes first, such as increasing your fibre intake, drinking plenty of fluids, and exercising regularly. If these measures don't help, a bulk-forming laxative is typically the first choice. Bulk-forming laxatives draw water into the stool, making it softer and easier to pass. They can take up to several days to provide relief but are safe for daily use.

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Exercise and lifestyle changes

Trapped wind is a common issue that can cause stomach pain and bloating. It is caused by a build-up of excess gas in the digestive system, which can be the result of certain foods and drinks, as well as lifestyle habits such as eating and drinking too quickly, or talking while eating.


  • Regular exercise can reduce tension and stress, increase energy levels, and enhance the way your digestive system works.
  • Walking can be an effective way to relieve trapped gas and bloating.
  • Yoga poses such as the Wind-Relieving Pose and the Happy Baby Pose can help to relieve trapped wind.
  • Squats can also help to relieve trapped gas.
  • Light physical activity, such as walking, can help to move intestinal gas and reduce bloating. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise, three to four days a week.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Avoid foods that can cause wind, such as wholegrains, starchy carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, corn, noodles), beans, cabbage, onions, and lactose-containing foods.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals instead of large meals.
  • Chew with your mouth closed to avoid swallowing air.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Avoid fizzy drinks, alcohol, and caffeine.
  • Avoid processed, sugary, spicy, or fatty foods.
  • Do not eat foods you are intolerant to.
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