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Constipation Relief Guide

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What About Laxatives?

A box of laxatives shouldn't be the first place you turn to relieve constipation. Reserve laxatives for constipation that doesn't improve after you've added fiber and water to your diet.

See your doctor for long-term constipation, because a medicine you're taking or a medical condition could be the cause. In that case, stopping the medicine or treating the problem should relieve your constipation.

If your doctor recommends laxatives, ask what type is best for you, and for how long you should take them. Laxatives are best taken short-term only, because you don't want to start relying on them to go to the bathroom. Also ask how to ease off laxatives when you no longer need them. Stopping them too abruptly can affect your colon's ability to contract.

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.

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