Laxatives: Friend Or Foe?

can laxatives hurt your stomach really bad

Laxatives are easily accessible over-the-counter medications that can be used to relieve constipation. However, they can have some unpleasant and harmful side effects, especially if misused or abused. While constipation can cause abdominal cramps and bloating, laxatives can also induce these unpleasant sensations as they stimulate the intestines to contract and push out stools. In addition, they can cause excessive gas, changes in electrolyte levels, and even increase the risk of kidney injury if not used correctly. Prolonged or excessive use of laxatives can lead to intestinal obstruction and electrolyte imbalances, including deficiencies in essential minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, sodium, and chloride. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the potential risks associated with laxative use and to always follow the directions on the label or consult a doctor for advice.

Characteristics Values
Side Effects Bloating, stomach cramps, gas, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, kidney injury, colon damage, constipation, diarrhea, gas, abdominal pain, headaches, dry mouth, drowsiness, swelling of feet and ankles, nausea, vomiting, and more.
Use Cases Constipation relief, weight loss, eating disorders, post-surgery bowel evacuation
Types Stimulant, osmotic, bulk-forming, stool softeners, lubricants, saline, prokinetic
Availability Over-the-counter, prescription


Stomach cramps, gas and bloat

Stomach cramps, gas, and bloat are common side effects of laxative use. Laxatives are a go-to solution for constipation, but they can have adverse effects on the body, especially when overused or misused.

Types of Laxatives and Their Side Effects

There are several types of laxatives, each with its own mechanism of action and potential side effects. Here's how they work and how they can contribute to stomach cramps, gas, and bloat:

  • Osmotic laxatives draw water into the bowel, hydrating and softening stool. When overused, they can lead to severe diarrhea, bloating, abdominal cramping, and dehydration.
  • Stimulant laxatives act on the intestinal tract, stimulating muscle contractions to push out stool. They are the most commonly misused form due to their rapid action. Overuse can result in severe stomach cramps and abdominal pain.
  • Bulk-forming laxatives retain fluid in the stool, increasing its weight and consistency. Dehydration, even slight, can cause bloating, pain, and bowel obstruction.
  • Stool softeners work by decreasing the surface tension of stools, allowing them to absorb more water and become softer.
  • Lubricant laxatives lubricate the intestines and reduce water absorption, making stool passage easier.

Preventing and Managing Gas Pain

Gas pain, while usually not serious, can cause intense discomfort. Intestinal gas often resolves on its own through burping or flatulence. However, there are ways to prevent and manage it:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fiber.
  • Avoid drinking with a straw.
  • Choose non-carbonated beverages.
  • Identify and avoid food triggers.
  • Consult a doctor if symptoms persist, as it could be due to food sensitivities or conditions like celiac disease or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

In summary, laxatives can indeed hurt your stomach, and stomach cramps, gas, and bloat are potential side effects. It is important to use laxatives sparingly and only when necessary, and to be aware of their potential adverse effects.

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Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance

Laxatives are intended to be used occasionally to relieve constipation. However, they can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances when overused or misused.

Dehydration occurs when the body has too little water. Laxatives deplete the body of water, and the body compensates for dehydration by retaining water, which can result in bloating. Dehydration can cause lightheadedness, headaches, darker urine, tremors, fainting, weakness, blurred vision, and kidney damage. In extreme cases, dehydration can lead to death.

Electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, are essential minerals that help the body maintain water levels, move nutrients into cells, remove waste products, allow nerves to send signals, enable muscles to relax and contract effectively, and maintain brain and heart functioning. Electrolyte imbalances can cause tremors, vomiting, urinary tract infections, kidney failure, muscle spasms, and heart attacks, which can be fatal.

Laxatives can cause the body to lose electrolytes, leading to an electrolyte imbalance. This occurs when electrolyte levels become too high or too low, indicating another issue in the body. Electrolyte imbalances can upset the normal functioning of the body and lead to serious complications.

To prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, it is important to drink plenty of fluids when taking laxatives. The recommended daily water intake is at least 2 liters. Additionally, laxatives should be used sparingly and only when necessary.

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Kidney injury

Laxatives are usually taken to alleviate constipation and to clean the bowel before a medical procedure such as a colonoscopy. Over-the-counter laxatives are generally safe for most people, but prescription laxatives used to clean the bowel before a colonoscopy can be harmful to the kidneys.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported that certain laxatives are associated with a sudden loss of kidney function and blood mineral disturbances, especially in those with kidney disease. The FDA has also warned that taking more than the recommended amount of laxatives can cause rare but serious harm to the kidneys and heart.

Laxative abuse can cause hypokalemia and volume depletion, which can lead to rhabdomyolysis and renal insufficiency. A case study described a 27-year-old woman with a history of laxative abuse who presented with severe renal failure associated with hypokalemia and volume depletion. She required acute hemodialysis for worsening acidosis.

Another study found that laxative abuse was linked to a potentially life-threatening complication in a patient with a history of eating disorders. The patient developed profound volume depletion, which exacerbated laxative-associated renal failure.

It is important to note that overuse of laxatives can also cause kidney stones. Therefore, if you need to take laxatives multiple times a week to treat constipation, it is recommended to consult a healthcare provider to ensure it is safe for you.

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Colon damage

The colon can become stretched due to excessive laxative use, and the muscle wall may weaken and become flaccid. This can result in a "lazy" colon, where the colon stops reacting to usual doses of laxatives, requiring larger and larger amounts to produce bowel movements. This can lead to laxative dependency, a serious condition where the colon loses its ability to contract and function properly without the use of laxatives.

Chronic laxative misuse has also been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer, although more research is needed to fully understand this association. Additionally, laxative abuse can contribute to the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and, in rare cases, liver damage.

It is important to use laxatives sparingly and only when necessary. They should not be used for weight loss or as a detox method, as this can lead to dangerous health complications, including colon damage. If you are experiencing constipation, it is recommended to make dietary and lifestyle changes, such as increasing fibre intake, staying hydrated, and regular exercise, before considering laxatives.

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Laxative dependency

Laxatives are medications used to treat constipation and are generally considered safe for short-term use. However, they can have side effects and, in some cases, lead to laxative dependency.

The overuse of laxatives can cause electrolyte imbalances and intestinal obstruction, resulting in severe abdominal pain and worsening constipation and gas. It can also lead to edema and clubbing, as well as acute weight gain when the laxative is discontinued, which may reinforce further misuse. Additionally, research suggests a potential link between laxative use and an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

To break the cycle of laxative dependency, it is crucial to identify and address the underlying causes. This may involve seeking help from a mental health professional or a gastroenterologist to treat any underlying digestive issues. A doctor may recommend gradually tapering laxative use to minimise withdrawal symptoms or stopping them altogether. They may also advise adopting bowel-healthy lifestyle habits, such as increasing fluid intake, consuming high-fibre foods, and engaging in daily exercise, to treat and prevent constipation.

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Frequently asked questions

Yes, laxatives can cause stomach cramps, bloating, and gas.

The side effects of laxatives include:

- Stomach cramps

- Bloating

- Gas

- Dehydration

- Changes in electrolyte levels

- Kidney injury

- Colon damage

Laxatives are medications that help people empty their bowels by softening stools or increasing their bulk with additional fiber. They are commonly used to relieve constipation.

There are five basic types of laxatives:

- Stimulant

- Osmotic

- Bulk-forming

- Stool softeners

- Lubricants

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