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Constipation Relief Guide

What About Laxatives? continued...

Laxatives come in several forms:

  • Bulk-forming laxatives include Metamucil, FiberCon, and Citrucel. Unlike other laxatives, you can take these every day, because they're essentially just fiber supplements that make the stool bigger and softer. Although they are safe to use regularly, bulk-forming laxatives can interfere with your body's ability to absorb certain medicines, and they may cause bloating, cramps, and gas. Drink a lot of water when you take bulk laxatives.
  • Lubricant laxatives, including Fleet and Zymenol, coat the stool to make it slippery, so it can pass more easily through the colon.
  • Osmotic laxatives such as Cehulac, Sorbitol, and Miralax help fluids move through your intestines. If you have diabetes, ask your doctor before taking osmotics because they can cause electrolyte imbalances.
  • Saline laxatives pull extra water into the stool. Common brand names include Milk of Magnesia and Haley's M-O.
  • Stimulant laxatives such as Correctol, Dulcolax, and Senekot, make the muscles in your intestines contract to help push stool out. These laxatives work quickly, but they can cause side effects, including cramping and diarrhea, so use them for as short a period of time as possible.
  • Stool softeners such as Colace and Surfak make stools easier to pass by adding fluid to them. Having softer stool can prevent you from having to strain during bowel movements. Your doctor may recommend one of these products if your constipation is due to childbirth or surgery.

Enemas are sometimes used to relieve constipation, but they can have side effects. It's better to try diet changes and laxatives instead. In general, doctors do not recommend using mineral oil or castor oil. Mineral oil can cause problems such as vitamin deficiencies, and castor oil can lead to long-term constipation.

When Constipation Is a Regular Problem

Regardless of what constipation treatment you use, give yourself enough time to sit on the toilet when you need to go. Holding in the urge can make your constipation worse. Set aside a regular time of the day when you know you'll be left undisturbed for several minutes.

Also, don't ignore the problem. Untreated constipation can lead to real problems, such as hemorrhoids and tears in the skin around the anus (called fissures) that make you bleed. If you strain too hard, you might even cause part of your intestines to push out through the anus -- a condition called rectal prolapse that can sometimes require surgery.

Call your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms with constipation:

  • Stomach pain
  • Blood in your stools
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Inability to have a bowel movement

Also, call if you've been having trouble going for more than three weeks and constipation treatments aren't working.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on May 21, 2014

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