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OTC Laxatives

If you suffer from occasional constipation, laxatives can offer some relief. These products are made to help relieve constipation so that you can continue with your day and leave the unpleasant feelings of constipation behind. Not all laxatives are the same, so it's important to understand how they work and which ones might be right for you. If you have fewer than three bowel movements per week, laxatives may be a good option to help you become regular again.

How Long Do Laxatives Last?

Laxatives are medications or treatments used to relieve constipation. Most experts define constipation as having difficulty passing a bowel movement or having fewer than 3 per week. Some laxatives work by improving regularity, while others soften the stool and make it easier to pass. Regardless of product type, laxatives are intended to be used for occasional, short-term relief.

How Do Laxatives Work?

Most over-the-counter laxatives contain specific chemicals that help the body increase stool bulk, mobility, and frequency. These treatments can give you almost immediate relief, but it's important that you use them responsibly. If you take laxatives too often, they can actually make constipation worse. Make sure you're getting enough healthy fruits and vegetables in your diet along with whole grains to increase the amount of fiber in your diet. Drink water frequently, since this can also help to prevent or reduce constipation.

When To Take A Laxative

Occasional constipation is common. You could end up constipated after changes in routine, too little exercise, ignoring the urge to use the bathroom, or eating a low fiber diet. Symptoms that suggest you might benefit from using one of the many types of laxatives available include:

  • Hard, dry or lumpy stool
  • Straining to pass a bowel movement
  • Feeling as if the passage is blocked
  • A sensation that the job is not complete

Types Of Laxatives

When you shop for laxatives at CVS Pharmacy, they typically come in three main types: bulking agents (or fiber), stimulant laxatives, and stool softeners. Let's take a closer look at each so you can determine which type of laxative is right for you:

  • Fiber: Many people don't get enough fiber in their diet, so these supplements can give you the fiber you need to prevent constipation. You'll find most fiber supplements in a powder form that you can mix with liquid like water or juice. Follow the directions as indicated on the package and make sure you drink plenty of water after you take any fiber supplement. Fiber increases the water content in the stool, which will help with elimination. You may experience slight gas, bloating, or abdominal cramping which usually subsides after taking fiber more often.
  • Stimulant laxatives: These laxatives stimulate the lining of the intestine to help push it through the colon faster. They also increase the hydration in the stool and give you fast relief if your constipation is extreme or severe. Be aware that stimulant laxatives should be taken in moderation and that they can cause severe cramping and diarrhea. If you prefer not to take a stimulant in pill form, prunes are a good alternative that works quite well to give you relief.
  • Stool softeners : A stool softener is a good option if you're not too concerned about your constipation. These products are extremely gentle and can take up to a week or longer to really start being effective. Stool softeners are a good option if you've recently given birth or if you are recovering from surgery.
  • Bulking Agents: The fiber in bulking agents absorbs fluids from the intestinal and softens stools. Most bulking agents work in 12-72 hours.
  • Lubricants: Draw fat and water to hard, dry stool. The increased fat and water content make the stool easier to pass. Lubricants tend to work in 6-8 hours.
  • Hyperosmolar and Osmotics: Draw fluids from surrounding tissues to help flush the colon. These products tend to deliver results within 30 minutes to 6 hours of use.
  • Rectal Suppositories: A suppository is a treatment inserted into the rectum. Depending on the active ingredients, they work by either softening the stool or relaxing muscles. Suppositories usually provide relief in 15-30 minutes.

Laxative Side Effects

Like many medications, laxatives can interact with prescription and over-the-counter treatments. They can also cause unpleasant side effects. The most common include abdominal cramps, gas and bloating. Although occasional use is safe for most people, over-use can cause severe dehydration, mineral imbalances, organ damage and laxative dependency.

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