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 for constipation facts
- What is constipation?
- What causes constipation?
- When should a doctor be consulted for constipation?
- What natural remedies can a person take for constipation?
- What over-the-counter preparations can be used for constipation?
- Bulk-forming laxatives
- Stool softeners (emollient laxatives)
- Lubricant laxatives
- Stimulant laxatives
- Saline laxatives and osmotic laxatives
- Enemas and suppositories
- How is constipation treated in infants and in children?
- How is constipation treated during pregnancy?
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
Stool softeners (emollient laxatives)
Stool softeners, called emollient laxatives, prevent hardening of the feces by adding moisture to the stool. The active ingredient in most stool softeners is a medicine called docusate. Agents containing docusate do not by themselves stimulate or increase the number of bowel movements. They are used more to prevent constipation than to treat it.
Stool softeners are commonly recommended for individuals who should avoid straining while defecating, including those:
- who are recovering from abdominal, pelvic, or rectal surgery, childbirth, or heart attack;
- with severe high blood pressure or abdominal hernias; and
- with painful hemorrhoids and/or anal fissures.
Softening the stool in these affected individuals can help reduce pain during defecation.
Stool softeners available OTC include Colace, Surfak, and pharmacy or store-branded products containing docusate. Some preparations (for example, Peri-Colace) combine a stool softener with a stimulant laxative to activate bowel movements.
Precautions for using stool softeners
Stool softeners are generally safe and well tolerated. They should not be combined with mineral oil, a lubricant laxative, because stool softeners may increase the absorption and toxicity of mineral oil. Mineral oil droplets absorbed into the body can deposit and cause inflammation in the lymph glands, liver, and spleen.
Mineral oil (liquid petrolatum) coats and softens stool. Like stool softeners, mineral oil is used by patients who need to avoid straining (for example, after hernia repair, hemorrhoid surgery, heart attacks, and childbirth).
Precautions for using lubricant laxatives
- Mineral oil should be avoided in individuals taking blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin). Mineral oil decreases the absorption of vitamin K (important in forming clotting factors in the blood) from the intestines. The decreased absorption of vitamin K in patients taking warfarin can potentially lead to "over-thinning" of the blood and increasing the risk of excessive bleeding.
- Mineral oil should not be taken during pregnancy since it may inhibit vitamin absorption and decrease the availability of vitamin K to the fetus.
- Mineral oil can cause pneumonia if it leaks into the lungs. Leakage of secretions and other contents from the mouth and the esophagus into the lungs is called aspiration. Certain individuals (for example, the very young, the elderly, stroke victims, and those with swallowing difficulties) are prone to aspirate, especially while lying down. Therefore, mineral oil should not be given at bedtime or to individuals who are prone to aspirate.
- Mineral oil should only be used for short periods of time. A significant absorption of mineral oil into the body can occur if used repeatedly over prolonged periods.
Next: Stimulant laxatives
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