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Nonprescription Medicines and Products - Bulking Agents, Stool Softeners, and Laxatives

There are four types of products used to prevent or treat constipation: bulking agents, stool softeners, osmotic laxatives, and stimulant laxatives.

Bulking agents, such as bran or psyllium (found in Metamucil, for example) ease constipation by increasing the volume of stool and making it easier to pass. Regular use of bulking agents is safe and helps make them more effective.

Recommended Related to Digestive Disorders

Understanding Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are not diseases. They are symptoms of another condition. Nausea is the very unpleasant feeling of being about to vomit. Vomiting is the spitting up of the contents of the stomach. It's associated with a feeling of nausea and strong contractions of the abdominal muscles. Vomiting is different from regurgitation, in which one spits up stomach contents without feeling sick and without strong muscle contractions.

Read the Understanding Nausea and Vomiting article > >

Stool softeners (such as Colace and Docusate Calcium) soften the stool, making it easier to pass. Stool softeners can be most effective if you drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Osmotic laxatives, such as Fleet Phospho-Soda, Milk of Magnesia, or Miralax, and nonabsorbable sugars (such as lactulose or sorbitol), hold fluids in the intestine. They also 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 (such as Correctol, Ex-Lax, and Senokot) make stool move faster 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.

There are many other ways to treat constipation, such as drinking more water. For more information, see the topics Constipation, Age 12 and Older and Constipation, Age 11 and Younger.

Precautions

  • Take any laxative or bulking agent with plenty of water or other liquids.
  • Do not take laxatives regularly. They change the tone and feeling in the large intestine. And you can become dependent on using them all the time to have a bowel movement. If you need help having regular bowel movements, use a bulking agent.
  • Regular use of laxatives may change your body's ability to absorb vitamin D and calcium. This can lead to weakened bones.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: February 05, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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