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Constipation, laxatives

Constipation is a common problem

  • Is your stool hard?
  • Are you straining on the toilet?
  • Do you still feel obstructed after passing stools?
  • Do you pass stools less than three times a week?
Then you may well need a laxative

A good diet with plenty of healthy fruit and vegetables, whole-grain products and adequate exercise, plus at least eight glasses of water a day, can certainly help prevent constipation and the need for laxatives. However, constipation is a common ailment, and often laxatives are a useful tool in the battle against this most unpleasant of complaints.

What are laxatives?

Widely available over the counter and in colon cleansing programmes, laxatives are medicines used to ease the problem of constipation. The four most common types are:

  • Stimulant laxatives – These increase the speed of bowel movements by stimulating the muscle lining of the digestive tract. Senna and glycerol suppositories are stimulant laxatives. These can take between 8 – 12 hours to take effect, and are therefore good to take before bed or at a time to suit your normal bowel movement.
  • Bulk-forming laxatives – By increasing the amount of faeces and softening it, these encourage bowel movement. Found in fibre supplements – bran or ispaghula husk, for instance - or in granule or powder form to be mixed with water. It is also important to drink plenty of water whilst taking these. These usually take effect between 12 – 14 hours.
  • Stool softener laxatives – Containing docusate, these wet, and therefore help soften, the stool making them much easier to pass, and come in the form of capsules or enemas. Particularly suitable for sufferers of haemorrhoids and women who have recently given birth. These usually take effect between 24 – 48 hours.
  • Osmotic laxatives – These help soften the stool by encouraging the assimilation of fluids into the intestine from adjacent tissues and come in the form of powders, liquids or enemas. The presence of the extra water which they promote makes stools easier to pass. However, it is still important to drink adequate water while taking this kind of laxative. These can take up to two days to take effect.

  • Some suppositories and enemas (laxatives administered via the rectum) are much quicker, perhaps 15 – 30 minutes, but must be treated with caution, and preferably with medical advice.

    As a rule, laxatives should only be used for a short period of time. Prolonged use can lead to dependency, also putting at risk your bowel’s ability to function properly without them: dehydration and adverse levels of minerals and salts can also occur, compromising your digestive system. Once the problem of constipation has been solved, it is important to return to a healthy, balanced diet for your system’s health. Remember: Fluids, Fibre and Exercise are always important. Chronic constipation, however, may require longer term use of laxatives. If you take opioids (e.g. Codeine or morphine), anti-acids or iron supplements on a regular basis, it is advisable to talk to your GP for advice on the most suitable laxative for you.

    Laxatives can have side effects.

    • Stimulant laxatives, especially taken in too large a dose, can cause diarrhoea.
      Stomach cramps and pains can also occur
    • Osmotic laxatives may possibly cause dehydration, cramps and wind.
      Abdominal discomfort may also be experienced
    • Stool softener laxatives may cause both abdominal cramps and nausea
    • Bulk-forming laxatives have been known to cause tummy swelling, wind and, very unusually, blockage of the bowel

    Laxatives are not usually suitable for children, especially young children, and should only be administered under medical advice (if they are prescribed they are likely to be osmotic or stimulant laxatives rather than the bulk-forming varieties). Sufferers of certain bowel conditions (e.g. Crohn’s Disease, irritable bowel syndrome –IBS - or ulcerative colitis) should also seek medical advice before using laxatives as should diabetics, as they can cause changes to blood sugar levels.

    Natural remedies - It has long been thought that certain natural products can also have a significant effect on constipation, easing its symptoms and giving relief. Recent research has born out the verity of these ‘Grandma’s’ remedies, so they are always worth trying, especially if you averse to using patent, commercial medicines. These include prunes (dried plums), raisins, currants, dates and figs, or a prune juice concentrate. In fact, anything that seems to have a laxative effect, as long as it is used safely and with caution, is worth trying in the search for relief from the very unpleasant and uncomfortable ailment of constipation.

    But remember, in the first instance and unless you have a persistent problem, nothing is better than a healthy diet and lifestyle. So: FIBRE, WATER, EXERCISE!

    And you may avoid the need for laxatives comple

    In to swimbi.com