Getting things moving again

When you realize you're constipated, getting some exercise, eating more fibre, and drinking lots and lots of water usually helps. But what do you do when this is just not enough? There are other options you can choose from to give you relief.

Laxatives – products that relieve constipation – are commonly used, and there are many kinds available.

As with any medication, there are some side effects associated with the use of laxatives, such as diarrhea, stomach cramping and pain, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, gas, decreased absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, and rectal irritation. Generally, it is recommended to try gentler agents first.

Stimulant laxatives, such as senna, a natural source product, and bisacodyl, make the muscles in your intestine work to push the stool along more quickly.

Osmotic laxatives, such as lactulose, magnesium-containing laxatives, and polyethylene glycol, (PEG) draw water into the colon to help increase the frequency of bowel movements and allow for easier passing of stool. These also include glycerin suppositories, which work faster than osmotic laxatives that are ingested.

Mineral oil or phosphate enemas work by stimulating the colon to contract by expanding it with liquid or reducing water loss from your stool.

Stool softeners, such as docusate sodium, help to soften and prevent dryness of the stool.

Lubricants, such as mineral oil, allow stool to travel more easily through the intestines by making the stool greasy.

Bulk-forming agents, such as psyllium, add volume and draw water into the stool, promoting regularity. These are among the most popular – even some breakfast cereals contain psyllium.

If you experience constipation during pregnancy, get your doctor's advice on which of these treatments is right for you.

Not all treatments are safe for everyone. Factor like your age, medical conditions, and medications you're taking can impact which treatment option is right for you. All treatment options come with some side effects. Before starting any new laxative, be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

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