A laxative is a substance that helps you have a bowel movement. Laxatives are used to relieve and prevent constipation, which occurs when it is difficult to have a bowel movement.
What are the types of laxatives?
There are four types of products for preventing or treating constipation.
- Bulking agents.
Food such as bran or products such as Benefibre or Metamucil ease constipation by absorbing more fluid in the intestines. This makes the stool bigger, which gives you the urge to pass the stool. Regular use of bulking agents is safe and often lets you have more stools.
- Stool softeners.
Products such as Colace lubricate and soften the stool in the intestine, making it easier to pass. Stool softeners do not often cause problems but they don't work as well if you don't drink enough water during the day.
- Osmotic laxatives.
Products such as Milk of Magnesia, Miralax, or RestoraLAX and non-absorbable sugars such as lactulose or sorbitol hold fluids in the intestine and draw fluids into the intestine from other tissue and blood vessels. This extra fluid in the intestines makes the stool softer and easier to pass. Drink plenty of water when you use this type of laxative.
- Stimulant laxatives.
Products such as Dulcolax, Ex-Lax, or Senokot speed up how fast a stool moves through the intestines by irritating the lining of the intestines. Regular use of stimulant laxatives is not recommended. Stimulant laxatives change the tone and feeling in the large intestine and you can become dependent on using laxatives all the time to have a bowel movement.
How can you safely use them?
Here are some tips that can help you stay safe when using laxatives.
- Take any laxative or bulking agent with plenty of water or other liquids.
- Do not take stimulant laxatives regularly. Stimulant laxatives change the tone and feeling in the large intestine and you can become dependent on using laxatives all the time to have a bowel movement. If you need help having regular bowel movements, use a bulking agent, such as bran or psyllium (for example, Metamucil).
- Regular use of stimulant laxatives—such as Dulcolax, Ex-Lax, Senokot, or bisacodyl—may change your body's ability to absorb vitamin D and calcium. This can cause weakening of your bones (low bone density).
Current as of:
September 20, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Current as of: September 20, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine