Chronic Constipation - Are Stimulant Laxatives the Best Option?
But for chronic constipation a stimulant laxative may not be the best option.
Constipation, which is medically defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week, is a very common condition; in fact it is the single most common digestive problem in the U.
, effecting more than 4 million people.
In most cases constipation is mild and temporary and the cause can usually be traced to simple lifestyle factors.
Changes in diet, reduced activity levels, and disruption of normal routine are the most common causes of occasional irregularity.
Getting back to your regular schedule, eating more high fiber foods, drinking more water and non-caffeinated beverages, and increasing your activity level will almost always help get your digestive system back to normal in a few days.
If you feel you need to help nature along with a commercial product, a stimulant laxative such as Ex-Lax or Senekot will generally provide swift relief.
Stimulant laxatives work by triggering muscle contractions that move the stool through the colon, and are both safe and effective treatment for mild occasional irregularity when used responsibly.
For chronic constipation, however, stimulants are rarely the best choice.
Overuse of stimulant laxatives can eventually create dependence; the muscles that move waste through the body will only work effectively in response to a stimulant.
Taking stimulant laxatives too often can also lead to serious conditions such as dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, which can cause abnormal heart rhythms and seizures.
They can also interfere with the body's absorption of the nutrients in food and may impair the effectiveness of certain medications.
Chronic constipation, particularly among the elderly, is frequently related to lack of intestinal muscle strength and/or hardness and dryness of stool.
In these cases bulk forming fiber supplements (such as Metamucil, Fiber Con, and Citrucel) can be a better choice.
These supplements, usually available as a powder to be mixed with food or liquid, work by adding fiber to the contents of the intestines.
The additional fiber draws water into the stool and makes it softer and bulkier.
This makes it easier for the body to move the stool through the colon and also makes the stool easier to expel.
Bulk formers are a safe, affordable chronic constipation treatment that can be taken on a daily basis with no adverse effects.
They are generally considered to be the mildest form of laxative.
Stool softeners (such as Kaopectate or Colace) aren't technically laxatives but they can be an effective treatment for chronic constipation, particularly when stool is dry, hard, and difficult to expel.
Stool softeners work by improving the body's ability to draw water from the colon into the stool, making it softer.
These products don't add bulk to the stool but they do make the stool softer, easier to move through the colon, and easier to expel.