What Is A Stool Softener
What is a stool softener? A softener is a substance or ingredient that softens the stool by adding water and also magnesium and sodium bicarbonate to the stool. It is a common solution for people suffering from diarrhea caused due to over-intake of liquids during the day. Other causes for this type of diarrhea include acute trauma resulting in the sudden evacuation of large quantities of liquids, pregnancy, use of certain laxatives for short-term relief, and some medications.
Stool softener is over-the-counter medicine that falls into the stool softening category of medications which are used to relieve constipation and other bowel related problems. Stool softener is also an important form of stool softening agent that is used as a first aid remedy for hemorrhoids. There are two types of laxatives natural and chemical. These two are used in different circumstances and for different purposes. A stool softener is used to treat constipation which may be caused due to many reasons. Constipation can be caused due to an unhealthy colon, prolonged straining during a bowel movement, dehydration, and even pregnancy.
Some of these stool softeners also come as suppositories. These medications are mostly used for temporary hemorrhoid relief. For long-term relief, you can consult your doctor for prescription of suppositories and/or laxatives.
Questions To Ask Your Doctor
- What kind of laxative is best for me?
- Am I taking any other medicines that will interact with a laxative?
- Do I need a prescription laxative, or can I buy one over the counter?
- How long should I take a laxative?
- Can I use a bulk-forming laxative every day?
- Are there any tests you recommend before I begin taking laxatives?
How Do Doctors Treat Constipation
If self-care treatments dont work, your doctor may prescribe a medicine to treat your constipation. If youre taking an over-the-counter or prescription medicine or supplement that can cause constipation, your doctor may suggest you stop taking it, change the dose, or switch to a different one. Talk with your doctor before changing or stopping any medicines.
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Mayo Clinic Q And A: Dealing With Chronic Constipation
DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Is it safe to take a stool softener daily to prevent constipation? What are the side effects of doing so long-term?
ANSWER: There currently isn’t any research that has examined the specific long-term side effects of taking a stool softener every day. While the risks associated with taking this kind of over-the-counter medication daily are not likely to be significant, it would be a good idea to talk with your health care provider about your symptoms. Although uncommon, an underlying health condition could be part of the problem.
Constipation typically is defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week or other symptoms . Chronic constipation refers to these symptoms when they last for several weeks or longer.
Constipation is a common problem,and there are many types of laxatives available to help treat it. Stoolsofteners, also called emollients, work by drawing fluids into stools, which issupposed to make them softer. This may make it easier to have a bowel movementwithout straining.
Over-the-counter stool softeners areeffective for some people. However, in controlled clinical trials, there is noevidence that they improve symptoms. While they only are intended forshort-term relief of constipation, using a daily stool softener long-termprobably is not harmful. But there are other ways to help relieve constipationthat often are successful.
Laxatives And Constipation Definitions And Facts
- The definition of constipation is infrequent bowel movements that may be painful or difficult, along with hard stool.
- Common causes of constipation include diets low in fiber, side effects of medications , irritable bowel syndrome or other colon disease, hormonal disturbances such as underactive thyroid and diabetes, and neurologic conditions.
- A doctor should be consulted for chronic constipation, if it does not respond to home treatment, is accompanied by bleeding, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, or during pregnancy.
- Natural and home remedies for constipation include:
- adding fiber to the diet,
- increasing fluids, and
- regular exercise.
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The Side Effects Of Laxatives
Like most medicines, laxatives can cause side effects. They’re usually mild and should pass once you stop taking the laxative.
The side effects you may get will depend on the type of laxative you’re taking, but common side effects of most laxatives include:
- tummy cramps
- feeling sick
- dehydration, which can make you feel lightheaded, have headaches and have pee that’s a darker colour than normal
Ask a GP for advice if you get any particularly troublesome or persistent side effects while taking laxatives.
Using laxatives too often or for too long can also cause diarrhoea, the bowel becoming blocked by large, dry poo , and unbalanced salts and minerals in your body.
Stool Softeners Are A Safer Option
Along with fiber supplements, stool softeners are generally safer than other laxatives. These medications can be used on a daily basis without causing significant side effects, notes the Mayo Clinic. The downside is that they may not work for everyone. Current evidence doesn’t support their use in the treatment of constipation.
Bulk-forming laxatives, such as psyllium husk and other fiber supplements, are safe to use daily. Generally, they take anywhere between 12 hours and several days to work, says Harvard Medical School. Other types of laxatives appear to be more effective, but they also carry a higher risk of side effects. Osmotic laxatives, for instance, may cause bloating, gas, diarrhea, and nausea, warn the experts at Harvard Medical School. The same goes for saline laxatives, which may lead to electrolyte imbalances.
Stimulant laxatives, such as castor oil, senna, and Dulcolax, are the most effective, but should only be used for occasional constipation. Their side effects range from nausea and vomiting to dehydration, dizziness, fainting, and bloody stools . In the long run, they may affect bowel function and cause dependency, notes Harvard Medical School. These medications should be your last resort.
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How Long Should Laxatives Be Used For
Ideally, laxatives should only be used occasionally and for short periods of time. Stop taking a laxative when your constipation improves.
After taking a laxative, to help stop constipation returning you can make certain lifestyle changes, such as drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly and including more fibre in your diet. These types of measures are a better way of preventing constipation than excessive use of laxatives.
See your GP for advice if you’re often constipated, despite making appropriate lifestyle changes, or if your constipation hasn’t improved after taking laxatives for more than a week.
Don’t get into the habit of taking laxatives every day to ease your constipation because this can be harmful.
In some cases, you may be prescribed a laxative to use regularly, but this should always be supervised by your GP or a gastroenterologist .
Common Side Effects Of Colace Vs Dulcolax
Adverse events are rare with Colace. Mild gastrointestinal cramping may occur. With higher doses and/or prolonged use, diarrhea and loose stools may occur. The liquid preparation may cause irritation to the lining of the throat if not diluted per manufacturerâs instructions.
Dulcolax at normal doses for short durations of treatment may cause mild gastrointestinal cramping, faintness, nausea, and vomiting. Dulcolax used long term is likely to cause diarrhea and lead to fluid and electrolyte loss. This can lead to hypokalemia which may be dangerous. Prolonged use can also lead to dependency, and rebound constipation may occur when the medication is stopped.
This list may not include all potential side effects. Please consult your healthcare professional for a complete list.
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Causes And Risk Factors
Constipation occurs when the stools are crowded together in the colon.
Medically speaking, constipation is defined as: Difficulty in passing stools or an incomplete or infrequent passage of hard stools. There are many causes, both organic and functional. Among the organic causes are intestinal obstruction, diverticulitis, and tumors. Functional impairment of the colon may occur in elderly or bedridden patients who fail to respond to the urge to defecate. Ibid.
Now what causes the stools to become hard or hardened? Answer: diet in general and the Standard American Diet in particular, which contains excessive meat, dairy products, and starches. Cooking food can also contribute to constipation, as it destroys enzymes in fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts and grains.
It is the enzymatic activity of living foods that causes peristalsis. Peristalsis is the wavelike muscular contractions of the alimentary canal or other tubular structures by which contents are forced onward toward the opening .
Pros And Precautions For Using Lubricant Laxatives
Mineral oil coats and softens stool. Like stool softeners, mineral oil is used by patients who need to avoid straining .
What are the precautions for using lubricant laxatives?
- Mineral oil should be avoided in individuals taking blood thinners, such as warfarin . Mineral oil decreases the absorption of vitamin K from the intestines. The decreased absorption of vitamin K in patients taking warfarin can potentially lead to “over-thinning” of the blood and increasing the risk of excessive bleeding.
- Mineral oil should not be taken during pregnancy since it may inhibit vitamin absorption and decrease the availability of vitamin K to the fetus.
- Mineral oil can cause pneumonia if it leaks into the lungs. Leakage of secretions and other contents from the mouth and the esophagus into the lungs is called aspiration. Certain individuals are prone to aspirate, especially while lying down. Therefore, mineral oil should not be given at bedtime or to individuals who are prone to aspirate.
- Mineral oil should only be used for short periods of time. A significant absorption of mineral oil into the body can occur if used repeatedly over prolonged periods.
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How Do Laxatives Work
There are several different kinds of laxatives. Each one works a different way. These are the most common types.
These laxatives add soluble fiber to the stool. This causes the stool to absorb more water. It creates larger, softer stools. The larger stools help trigger the bowel to contract. This moves the stools out. Bulk-forming laxatives generally are the safest type of laxative.
Examples of bulk-forming laxatives include:
To reduce your risk of side effects, you should start slowly. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids while taking bulk-forming laxatives. Gradually increase how much you use until you get the results you want.
These coat the surface of the stools to make them slippery. Doing this helps the stools move out of the body more easily. Glycerin suppositories lubricate the inside of the anus . This makes it easier to pass hard stools out of the body.
These help mix fluid into stools to soften them. This makes stools easier to pass out of the body. An example of a stool softener is docusate .
These cause the intestine to hold more fluid. This softens stools and helps the bowel move them out. Examples include polyethylene glycol and magnesium hydroxide solution .
Proper Use Of Laxatives
It is important for individuals to follow the instructions given by a healthcare provider and those supplied by the product manufacturer when taking an over-the-counter laxative. Unless otherwise directed by a medical professional, remember that over-the-counter and prescription laxatives are only intended for short-term use and you should not exceed the dosage on the label.
With all types of laxatives, it is important to consume at least 6-8 cups of liquids every day plus an additional glass with every laxative dose taken, unless otherwise advised by your healthcare provider. As described above, laxatives often draw fluid into the digestive system to soften the stool and/or pass it out with the bowel movement. Ensure plenty of fluid intake to prevent dehydration.
Laxative abuse can lead to serious dysfunction of bowel motility such as intestinal paralysis, cathartic colon, lazy or laxative gut, irritable bowel syndrome, pancreatitis, and other problems. Using laxatives regularly, except for bulk-forming agents and stool softeners, can lead to these problems. Therefore, it is important to use laxatives in moderation and under the supervision of a physician or other regulated healthcare provider. If you have chronic constipation, where it is a daily issue or occurs more than once a week, then seek the care of a medical professional before self-treating with over-the-counter laxatives.
First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 174 2010
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|Oral enteric-coated tablets, rectal suppository|
|What is the standard dosage?||One 100 mg softgel twice daily, max 300 mg per day||One 10 mg suppository once daily, max of 3 days per week|
|How long is the typical treatment?||One week or less, unless otherwise directed by a healthcare provider||One week or less, unless otherwise directed by a healthcare provider|
|Who typically uses the medication?||Children 2 years of age and older, adults||Children 6 years of age and older, adults|
Can Stool Softeners Make Constipation Worse
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Likewise, will stool softener help with constipation?
Stool softeners are gentle medications with a relatively mild effect. They soften the stool, making it easier to pass. Over-the-counter stool softeners are useful when a person experiences mild occasional or chronic constipation.
Similarly, what happens if you take too many stool softeners? Overuse of a stool softener can lead to serious medical problems. Store at room temperature away from moisture and heat. Overdose symptoms may include nausea, vomiting or stomach pain. Since docusate is used when needed, you may not be on a dosing schedule.
Also to know is, how do I soften my stool quickly?
Examples of home remedies to soften stools include:
When should I take a stool softener and laxative?
Laxatives are products that help people to poop by causing bowel movements. Stool softeners are a type of laxative that works by drawing water into the stool, making it softer and more comfortable to pass. Understanding the differences between laxatives and stool softeners may help a person decide which one to use.
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How Should This Medicine Be Used
Stool softeners come as a capsule, tablet, liquid, and syrup to take by mouth. A stool softener usually is taken at bedtime. Follow the directions on the package or your prescription label carefully, and ask your doctor or pharmacist to explain any part you do not understand. Take stool softeners exactly as directed. Do not take more or less of it or take it more often than prescribed by your doctor.
Swallow the docusate capsules whole do not split, chew, or crush them.
Take capsules and tablets with a full glass of water. The liquid comes with a specially marked dropper for measuring the dose. Ask your pharmacist to show you how to use it if you have difficulty. Mix the liquid with 4 ounces of milk, fruit juice, or formula to mask its bitter taste.
One to three days of regular use usually are needed for this medicine to take effect. Do not take stool softeners for more than 1 week unless your doctor directs you to. If sudden changes in bowel habits last longer than 2 weeks or if your stools are still hard after you have taken this medicine for 1 week, call your doctor.
How To Cope With Side Effects Of Docusate
What to do about:
- feeling sick try taking docusate with a meal or snack. You could also try mixing your dose with some water or fruit juice.
- diarrhoea if youre using docusate for mild constipation and get diarrhoea, stop taking docusate. Your bowels will usually return to normal in a few days. Drink plenty of water or other fluids to prevent dehydration and stop the constipation returning. If your doctor has prescribed docusate for severe or long-term constipation and you get diarrhoea, ask them for advice about what to do. Do not take any other medicines to treat diarrhoea without speaking to a pharmacist or doctor.
- stomach cramps if you get stomach cramps, reduce your dose of docusate until this goes away.
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How To Take Or Use It
Capsules swallow the capsule whole with plenty of water.
Liquid this comes with a plastic cup or spoon to measure the dose. Do not use a kitchen spoon as it will not give the right amount. If you do not have a cup or spoon, ask your pharmacist for one. When you’ve swallowed it, drink plenty of water or have another drink, such as milk or orange juice.
Enema squeeze the tube of liquid gently into your anus. The information leaflet which comes with your docusate will explain how to do this.
Docusate does not usually upset your stomach. You can take the capsules or liquid with or without food. Try to take your medicine at regular intervals throughout the day. Mealtimes are useful reminders.
There is no specific time of day to use an enema but it works quickly , so use it when you know you’ll be near a toilet.