Laxatives for constipation

Abdomen | Gastroenterology | Laxatives for constipation (Disease)


Constipation is infrequent bowel movements or difficult passage of stools. Constipation is a common gastrointestinal problem. Whats considered normal frequency for bowel movements varies widely. In general, however, youre probably experiencing constipation if you pass fewer than three stools a week, and your stools are hard and dry.

Fortunately, most cases of constipation are temporary. Simple lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, drinking more fluids and eating a high-fiber diet, can go a long way toward alleviating constipation. Constipation may also be treated with over-the-counter laxatives.

Causes and Risk factors

Constipation is usually harmless, but it can indicate an underlying disorder. When severe constipation can lead to fecal impaction, and if not relieved can result in intestinal obstruction. The primary causes of constipation include dehydration, sedentary lifestyle, medications (especially narcotics), stress, pregnancy, laxative abuse, depression, poor diet low in fiber, large hemorrhoids, and low thyroid levels.

The causes of constipation can be divided into congenital, primary, and secondary. The most common cause is primary and not life threatening. In the elderly, causes include: insufficient dietary fiber intake, inadequate fluid intake, decreased physical activity, side effects of medications, hypothyroidism, and obstruction by colorectal cancer.

Diagnosis and Treatment

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 the constipation becomes moderate to severe or does not respond to OTC products, a doctor should be consulted.

Most OTC laxatives are safe, effective, and well tolerated. There are distinct classes of laxatives, which function differently and have varying degrees of effectiveness and potential side effects.

Bulk-forming laxatives are the most commonly recommended initial treatments for constipation. 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.