Laxatives For Constipation (cont.)
John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
In this Article
- Laxatives definition and constipation facts
- What is constipation?
- What are the causes of constipation?
- What medications cause constipation?
- What natural and home remedies help cure constipation?
- What foods naturally help cure constipation?
- What types of over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives help cure constipation?
- Pros and precautions for using bulk-forming laxatives
- Pros and precautions for using stool softeners (emollient laxatives)
- Pros and precautions for using lubricant laxatives
- Pros and precautions for using stimulant laxatives
- Pros and precautions for using saline laxatives and osmotic laxatives
- Pros and precautions for using enemas and suppositories
- What natural laxatives are safe for infants, toddlers, and children?
- Are laxatives safe to take during pregnancy or while breastfeeding?
- When should a doctor be consulted for constipation?
- Are laxatives safe to take for weight loss?
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
What natural and home remedies help cure constipation?
Mild constipation without an underlying cause (such as medications, an underactive thyroid, or colon obstruction) can often improve with lifestyle modifications that include:
- Increase fiber in the diet. Fiber improves bowel function by adding bulk and softening the stool. You can increase the fiber in your diet with foods or over-the-counter (OTC) fiber supplements.
- Increase fluid intake. Although this is widely recommended as a treatment for constipation, there are no studies showing that increasing fluids improves constipation.
- Regular exercise such as walking, swimming, or running. Similar to increasing fluid intake, although exercise is widely recommended for treating constipation, there are no studies demonstrating its value for constipation.
What foods naturally help cure constipation?
Many foods can act as natural laxatives. These foods are high in fiber and can help get things moving, for example:
- Seeds, for example, flax, chia, and pumpkin
- Raisins, figs, and prunes
- Vegetables, for example, sweet potatoes, greens (spinach, kale), and pumpkin
- Fruits (include the skin)
- Whole grain breads and cereals
- Whole beans (such as kidney beans and pinto beans)
- Oat bran
What types of over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives help cure constipation?
Laxatives are medicines that increase the frequency and ease of passing stool. Many types of laxatives are available over-the-counter (OTC) for the relief of mild, occasional constipation. If constipation becomes moderate to severe or does not respond to OTC products, consult a doctor.
Most OTC laxatives are safe, effective, and well tolerated. There are distinct types of laxatives that function differently and have varying degrees of effectiveness and potential side effects. Talk to your doctor about the best laxative for your needs.
Pros and precautions for using bulk-forming laxatives
Bulk-forming laxatives are the most commonly recommended initial treatments for constipation as they tend to be the most gentle. Bulk-forming laxatives may work as quickly as 12 hours or take as long as three days to be effective. Some bulk-forming laxatives are derived from natural sources such as agar, psyllium, kelp (alginates), and plant gum. Others are synthetic cellulose compounds such as methylcellulose and carboxymethylcellulose. Natural and synthetic bulk-forming laxatives act similarly. They dissolve or swell in the intestines, lubricate and soften the stool, and make the passage of stool easier and more frequent.
Examples of bulk-forming laxatives include:
- Methylcellulose (Citrucel)
- Psyllium hydrophilic mucilloid (Metamucil)
- Polycarbophil (FiberCon)
- Guar gum (Benefiber)
- Malt soup extract (Maltsupex).
Many of these agents are available as powders and are taken mixed with fluids. Fruit drinks, fruit juice, and soft drinks mask the gritty taste of these laxatives better than water. Some are available as wafers, which are designed to be eaten with a separate beverage.
What are the pros for using bulk-forming laxatives?
- Bulk-forming laxatives are not absorbed from the intestines into the body and are safe for long-term use. They are also safe for elderly patients with constipation.
- They are helpful in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulosis, and colostomies.
- Some bulk-forming laxatives (such as guar gum) are used as fiber supplements in patients whose diets contain insufficient fiber. High fiber consumption can help control weight gain and sometimes modestly lower the level of cholesterol in the blood.
What are the precautions for using bulk-forming laxatives?
- Each dose of a bulk-forming laxative should be taken with at least a full glass (8 ounces) of fluid to be safe and effective. Bulk-forming laxatives may not be appropriate for individuals who must restrict oral fluid intake (such as patients with kidney failure).
- Individuals with narrowing of the digestive tract (including esophageal stricture, intestinal stricture, or severe adhesions from previous surgery) should not use bulk-forming agents without their doctors' approval due to the risk of blockage of the intestine or the esophagus.
- Some individuals may be allergic to the laxative or other substances contained in the product, such as coloring or artificial sweeteners.
- Abdominal bloating, discomfort, and flatulence (gas) can be bothersome to some people using bulk-forming laxatives. By trying different types of bulk-forming laxatives, it usually is possible to find one that does not cause discomfort.
- Some of these products contain sugar. People with diabetes mellitus may need to select sugar-free bulk-forming laxatives.
- Bulk-forming laxatives can decrease the absorption of certain medications such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)), and carbamazepine (Tegretol) and can also reduce blood sugar levels.
Learn more about: Tegretol
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