Laxatives are medications that allow the emptying of the bowels if an individual has difficulty during bowel movement. These medications are widely used to manage constipation if lifestyle changes such as increasing the intake of fiber in the diet, increased fluids or regular exercise could not help.
The laxatives are available over-the-counter without requiring a prescription in pharmacies and groceries.
What are the types of laxatives?
The commonly used laxatives include the following:
- Bulk-forming – such as methylcellulose which work similar as dietary fiber that increase the bulk of the stool by helping them retain fluid as well as encouraging the bowels to drive out the stools.
- Osmotic – such as polyethylene glycol and lactulose that soften the stools and promotes easier passage by increasing the amount of water in the bowels.
- Stimulant – such as senna, bisacodyl which hasten the movement of bowels by stimulating the nerves controlling the muscles that line the digestive tract.
- Stool softener – such as docusate sodium works by increasing the fluid content of dry, hard stools to make them easier to pass.
Even though laxatives are accessible over-the-counter, they are not suitable for everybody. These medications are not suitable for children unless prescribed by a doctor and some types are not safe to use if the individual has certain conditions present such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
How can I use one?
The medication is available in various forms such as the following:
- Tablets or capsules taken orally
- Powder sachets mixed in water
- Liquids or gels place directly into the back passage
- Suppositories inserted into the back passage
Some forms of laxatives are also designed to be used during certain times of the day such as upon waking up in the morning or before sleeping at night.
Carefully read the instructions on the packaging so that it is properly used. If in doubt, consult a doctor on instructions on how to use the medication.
If the bulk-forming or osmotic laxatives are used, it is vital to keep the body properly hydrated by increasing the intake of fluids. Remember that these laxatives can cause dehydration.
How long should they be used?
Generally, laxatives must only be used occasionally and for brief periods of time. Stop using the medication once constipation improves.
After using the medication, certain lifestyle changes such as increasing the intake of fluid, regular exercise and increased fiber intake in the diet must be observed. These measures are ideal in preventing constipation than using large amounts of laxatives.