Laxatives are a type of medicine that helps you to empty your bowels. They are generally used to relieve constipation. Most of these laxatives are available as over-the-counter medicines. You do not need a prescription to buy them and they are also available online.
You can take laxatives orally or by mouth in the form of tablets, liquids are capsules. Some of them can also be taken through the rectum as suppositories or enemas.
Constipation and how laxatives work
Constipation can result in cramps in the abdomen and can make you feel bloated or sick. There are two different types of constipation.
Primary constipation-in this type of constipation, slow and the standard movements caused by an anatomical issue. This type of constipation is often associated with not consuming enough fibre or not drinking enough fluids.
Secondary constipation-secondary constipation is generally associated with the metabolic disease or neurologic diseases, eating disorders or connective tissue disorders. Metabolic disease may include diabetes and neurologic diseases may include stroke, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.
Some medicines may also result in constipation. Medicines like antidepressants, iron, bismuth, anticholinergics, opioids, antacids, calcium channel blockers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, sympathomimetic and antipsychotics.
Types of laxatives
There are different types of laxatives available for the patients and they work in different ways. The four main types of laxatives are- buck forming laxatives which are also known as fibre supplements, osmotic laxatives which soften the stool by increasing the amount of water secreted into the bowels, stimulant laxatives which stimulate the digestive tract walls thereby speeding up bowel movements and stool softener laxatives which decreases the surface tension of stools so that they can absorb more water.
Risks of laxative use
Complicating conditions– use of laxative can be dangerous if constipation is caused by a serious condition. In some people appendicitis or bowel obstruction may cause constipation and if you use laxative to forcefully clear your bowel movement, it can cause other complications. If you frequently use laxatives for weeks and months they can result in your columns ability to contract and as a result of that the situation may worsen.
Problem for pregnant women and children– you should not give laxatives to children under age 6 without a doctor's recommendation. It should also not be given to pregnant women without recommendation of the doctor. Buck forming laxatives and stool softeners are generally safe but stimulant laxatives may be harmful for the pregnant women.
Interaction with medications- the laxatives may interact with other medications and cause serious medical conditions. The medical history and medicines you are taking right now should be taken into consideration while using laxatives. These are laxatives can interact with some antibiotics, heart and bone medicines and other medications. You should read labels carefully before using them. If you're not sure about the particular laxative, you should talk to your pharmacist or doctor. At no situation you should exceed recommended dosages unless recommended by your doctor.
Side effects-like other medications, laxatives can also have some side effects. The side effect will depend on the person and the type of laxatives they are taking. Some of the most common side effects include flatulence, cramps and abdomen, feeling sick, bloating and dehydration, light headedness, headaches and darker urine.
Prolonged use of laxatives can cause diarrhoea or intestinal obstruction and the stools can become large and dry. Long-term use can also reduce the levels of salts and minerals in your body and unbalanced them.