Laxatives for Constipation
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.
- 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
Laxatives definition and constipation facts
- The definition of constipation is infrequent bowel movements that may be painful or difficult, along with hard stool.
- Common causes of constipation include diets low in fiber, side effects of medications (such as narcotics, antidepressants, iron supplements, calcium channel blockers and other medications for high blood pressure, and certain types of antacids, prior surgeries, certain medical conditions including narrowing or blockage of the large intestine (colon), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other colon disease, hormonal (endocrine) disturbances such as underactive thyroid and diabetes, and neurologic conditions.
- A doctor should be consulted for constipation if it is severe, it does not respond to home treatment, is accompanied by bleeding, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, or during pregnancy.
- Natural and home remedies for constipation include adding fiber to the
- Foods that increase fiber in the diet are helpful in treating mild cases of constipation. These foods include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans.
- Types of over-the-counter (OTC) preparations for
- Bulk-forming laxatives, for example, methylcellulose (Citrucel) and psyllium hydrophilic mucilloid (Metamucil)
- Stool softeners such as Colace and Surfak
- Lubricant laxatives such as mineral oil (liquid petrolatum)
- Stimulant laxatives are the fastest-acting, such as include aloe, cascara (Nature's Remedy), senna compounds (Ex-Lax, Senokot), bisacodyl (Dulcolax, Correctol), and castor oil
- Saline laxatives or enemas such as Fleet Phospho-Soda, milk of magnesia, and magnesium citrate
- Osmotic-type laxatives such as GoLYTELY, GlycoLax, and MiraLax
- Suppositories such as docusate (Microenema), bisacodyl (Dulcolax Suppository), and sodium phosphate (Fleet Enema).
- There is concern that over-use of laxatives, especially the stimulant laxatives, may have a deleterious effect on the colon and make the constipation worse.
- Children and infants usually can benefit from dietary modification to help relieve constipation.
- Constipation in pregnancy can often be remedied with dietary changes and exercise.
- Individuals should consult their physicians before using laxatives or stool softeners.
- Laxatives are not intended as weight loss supplements, and laxative abuse can contribute to many health problems, including death.
What is constipation?
Constipation is a condition characterized by infrequent bowel movements that are painful or difficult, or stools that are hard in consistency. Infrequent bowel movements alone are not a reliable indicator of constipation because bowel frequency can vary between three times a day to once a week among normal individuals. Hard stools that are difficult to pass or infrequent stools accompanied by abdominal pain, back pain, and abdominal bloating define constipation.
What are the causes of constipation?
There are many causes of constipation including:
- Diets low in fiber. Fiber is vegetable material resistant to digestion that promotes soft stools by adding bulk to the stool and causing water to be retained in stool.
- Side effects of medications such as narcotic painkillers, antidepressants, iron supplements, calcium channel blockers (medications for high blood pressure), and certain types of antacids.
- Narrowing or blockage of the large intestine (colon) due to scarring from previous surgery, colon cancer or advanced diverticulosis.
- Ineffective contraction or spasm of the colon's muscles due to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other diseases of the colon's muscles.
- Hormonal (endocrine) disturbances such as an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroid) and diabetes mellitus with nerve damage.
- Neurologic conditions such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, and others.
What medications cause constipation?
Examples of common medications that can cause constipation:
- Narcotic pain medications: codeine (Tylenol #3), oxycodone (Percocet), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and others
- Antidepressants: amitriptyline (Elavil, Endep), fluoxetine (Prozac), and imipramine (Tofranil)
- Anticonvulsants: phenytoin (Dilantin) and carbamazepine (Tegretol)
- Iron supplements
- Calcium channel blockers, for example, diltiazem (Cardizem) and nifedipine (Procardia)
- Antacids, for example, aluminum hydroxide (Amphojel) and aluminum carbonate (Basaljel)
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