Officials characterize constipation as fewer than three bowel movements in a week or hard, dry, and painful bowel movements. Constipation is among the most common gastrointestinal issues in America. Around 42 million people in the countrysuffer from constipation, and they're seeking a way to relieve the pressure. For many, laxatives are the only way out. Unfortunately, many laxatives come with a long list of possible side effects and aren't safe for regular use. Ahead, we'll take a look at some of the most popular fast-acting laxatives and whether or not they're safe in the long-run. Immediate relief is great, but long-term health should always be the priority.
Emollient laxatives, commonly called stool softeners are the easiest form of laxative on your body. It's not among the most fast-acting laxatives, but it comes with some of the fewest side effects of any laxative. Instead of causing you to defecate immediately, stool softeners bring moisture to the stool and make it easier to pass. Most of the time, it's best to use stool softeners to prevent constipation. Stool softeners are ideal if you're prone to constipation, pregnant, or need to reduce strain while defecating.
Side Effects of Emollient Laxatives
Stool softeners are safe on their own, but you should be careful when combining them with other forms of laxatives. Other laxatives can contain harmful chemicals, and stool softeners might increase the chance that you absorb these chemicals into your body.
Bulk-forming laxatives are relatively safe as well and are far more effective at relieving constipation than stool softeners are. These laxatives aren't the most fast-acting laxatives on the market either, but work faster than stool softeners and are safer than some of the options below. Bulk-forming laxatives work as a fiber supplement. Professionals make them from both natural and synthetic material, but both work the same way. These laxatives enlarge the stool, telling your body it's time to go to the bathroom. You can expect these to work in 12 hoursto three days.
Side Effects of Bulk-Forming Laxatives
The side effects of bulk-forming laxatives are relatively tame. Most commonly, these will lead to bloating, discomfort, and gas. Make sure you stay hydrated on these laxatives, as they tend to cause you to hold water.
Lubricant laxatives work similarly as stool softeners. The difference is that these laxatives use mineral oil to coat the wall of the bowel instead of focusing on the stool. This will make passing stools easier, and decrease the energy you have to exert. This element is also similar to stool softeners, but lubricant laxatives promote defecating more than stool softeners do. You can expect lubricant stimulants to work in one to five days.
Side Effects of Lubricant Laxatives
While lubricant laxatives are closer to fast-acting laxatives than stool softeners are, they aren't as safe for long-term use. Your body will absorb the mineral oil at an unsafe rate after prolonged use. Use these for a short period and go back to stool softeners if you need to. Additionally, there's a chance of fluid leakage into the lungs for aging users. If you're elderly, we suggest not taking these laxatives immediately before bed to prevent this side effect.
Saline laxatives are far more powerful than the previously mentioned options and are among the most fast-acting laxatives on the market. These laxatives bring water into the intestines to soften the user's stool. This extra water increases pressure in intestinal contractions, which will lead to near-immediate defecation. You can expect to visit the toilet about half hour or hour after drinking a saline laxative with water or juice.
Side Effects of Saline Laxatives
Since saline laxatives are so powerful, we recommend that you use them for temporary relief only. The chemicals in these laxatives can be harmful to your body if you take them too often. It's better to take a saline laxative when constipation is at its worst, then use stool softeners or an improved diet to prevent future constipation. Side effects include nausea, cramps, gas, and diarrhea. Elderly users are especially susceptible to these side effects and should consult their doctor before taking saline laxatives.
You can take stimulant laxatives orally or as a suppository, and they work about the same. A suppository will work faster, while oral stimulant laxatives can take up to eight hours to take effect. There are a few different types of stimulant laxatives, but they all have similar effects on your body. All three are powerful, fast-acting laxatives that are only safe for short-term use:
- Castor Oil
- Senna, Cascara, and Casanthranol
These laxatives work by increasing intestinal contractions and enhancing the fluid in your stool.
Side Effects of Stimulant Laxatives
There are several side effects of stimulant laxatives that make them unsafe for continued use. You should only use these laxatives in an emergency situation, as using them for too long can cause dependence. Additionally, stimulant laxatives can give their users discolored stools and urine, rashes, an irregular heartbeat, and muscle cramps. Stimulant laxatives are only safe for short-term last resorts. It's particularly essential that you check with your doctor before taking stimulant laxatives.
Are Fast-Acting Laxatives the Only Option?
Americans spend over $700 million on laxatives a year. Some of these laxatives can cause long-term health problems, which we've detailed above. A change in diet is the best option for anyone suffering from constipation. Eat more fruit, fiber, and drink more fluids. If medication is causing your constipation, talk to your doctor about a potential change. Some drugs cause patients to become reliant on laxatives for relief. Laxatives provide temporary relief, but they often don't address the underlying problem. You should only use these laxatives when you need them, so you avoid becoming dependent on them.
Check With Your Doctor
We advise that you check with your doctor before using any of these laxatives. Some are especially dangerous to your long-term health, and you should only use them when constipation is at its worst.
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