Can using laxatives help constipation?

Laxative use for constipation is quite common. Many people use over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives for quick constipation relief. No doubt, laxatives can help with smooth bowel function, but these medicines must be used with caution and restraint.

Types of Laxatives
There are different types of laxatives in terms of how they work.

  • Osmotics: These bring more water into the large intestine to induce bowel movements. Side effects can include diarrhea, gas, bloating and cramping.
  • Stool softeners: Soften the stools with extra moisture for easier passage through the rectum. Side effects can be electrolyte imbalance with long-term use.
  • Bulk formers: Add bulk to stools and stimulate a normal bowel movement. Side effects can be bloating, cramps and gas.
  • Stimulants: These can cause intestinal muscle contractions. Side effects can be nausea, diarrhea, and belching.
  • Rectal suppositories: They trigger intestinal muscle contractions and soften stools. Side effects can be diarrhea and rectal irritation.

Using laxatives for constipation
It is generally safe to use OTC laxatives for occasionally relieving constipation. However, long-term use of all types of laxatives can be harmful. Bulk formers or fiber supplements are safest of all laxatives; even for long-term use. But it is better to consult your doctor if you want a safe laxative for prolonged use.

Some caution

  • The body can become dependent on laxatives. With prolonged use, you may not be able to have a normal bowel movement without using a laxative.
  • With oral laxatives, there is also a risk of diet and medicine interaction. Use of laxatives can interfere with normal absorption of some medicines and food substances.
  • The body needs electrolytes such as potassium and sodium for many body functions. Long-term use of some laxatives can mess with the electrolyte balance in the body and cause weakness, seizures, confusion and heart problems.

Talk to your doctor about prescription constipation medications for the chronic problem instead of using laxatives over a long period. Instead of using laxatives for constipation relief, it is better to change your poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle that could be causing your bowel problems. Eat more fiber-rich foods, avoid processed foods and exercise.


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