Medical News Today: Differences between stool softeners and other laxatives

Stool softeners and other laxatives are commonplace remedies for infrequent constipation. But what are they, and which merchandise are finest for constipation reduction?

Laxatives are merchandise that assist folks to poop by inflicting bowel actions. Stool softeners are a sort of laxative that works by drawing water into the stool, making it softer and extra snug to cross.

All laxatives work in numerous methods, every with the intention of serving to to alleviate constipation. Understanding the variations between laxatives and stool softeners might assist an individual resolve which one to make use of.

Anyone coping with common constipation might also select to make just a few modifications to their food regimen and way of life, which could assist regulate their bowel actions.

What are stool softeners and laxatives?

Woman with stomach pains outside a toilet
People ought to solely take one sort of laxative at a time.

The time period laxative refers to a variety of drugs, together with stool softeners.

A laxative is any drugs or complement that helps the physique have a bowel motion. Each laxative works otherwise.

Stool softeners are a sort of laxative that works to softly lubricate the stool by including a compound to it that absorbs water. They are additionally known as emollient laxatives.

There are many varieties of laxatives as a result of there are lots of completely different causes of constipation. Doctors might suggest various kinds of laxative relying on the reason for constipation or unintended effects of the drugs.

Stool softeners are a sort of laxative, however not all laxatives are stool softeners. Although some other laxatives additionally soften the stool, they’ve completely different strategies of motion.

Other varieties of laxatives embody:

  • Osmotic laxatives. These laxatives draw water into the intestines from the encompassing tissues.
  • Bulk-forming laxatives. Often derived from vegetation, these laxatives assist kind a watery gel within the intestines that provides each physique and lubrication to the stool.
  • Stimulant laxatives. Fast performing laxatives that may stimulate the intestines into having a bowel motion.
  • Saline laxatives. Magnesium-based laxatives that pull water into the intestines.
  • Lubricant laxatives. Oily laxatives that coat the intestines to assist transfer stool by faster.
  • Guanylate cyclase-C agonist laxatives. Certain medication each enhance water within the gastrointestinal tract and make the stool transfer by the colon quicker.

Only take one sort of laxative at a time, and discuss to a health care provider earlier than switching between them to keep away from any interactions or problems.

We focus on some of these laxatives in additional element beneath.

People can discover a variety of constipation reduction strategies on-line, together with stool softeners and other laxatives.

Which constipation reduction methodology is finest for me?

In most circumstances, a health care provider will know which sort of laxative they need to prescribe based mostly on the particular person’s signs and what’s inflicting them.

The following listing will describe the makes use of, advantages, and dangers of various types of laxatives:

Stool softeners

doctor consults with her patient
A physician will prescribe a laxative based mostly on the particular person’s signs.

Stool softeners are mild drugs with a comparatively delicate impact. They soften the stool, making it simpler to cross.

Over-the-counter stool softeners are helpful when an individual experiences delicate occasional or persistent constipation.

Doctors might prescribe stool softeners after main surgical procedures, equivalent to coronary heart surgical procedure or hernia restore. If straining to have a bowel motion could be dangerous throughout restoration, folks can take stool softeners to keep away from problems.

Osmotic laxatives

Osmotic laxatives work by drawing water into the intestines. They might not be the most suitable choice for folks experiencing constipation from dehydration.

Anyone utilizing osmotic laxatives must also drink extra water all through the day. When used appropriately, docs might suggest osmotic laxatives for long-term use.

Fiber-based laxatives

Doctors might suggest a bulk-forming laxative containing soluble fiber if an individual doesn’t get a variety of fiber of their common food regimen. Doctors might also suggest fiber-based laxatives for individuals who have persistent, long-lasting constipation.

Bulk-forming laxatives could also be safer for long-term use than other choices, as they’ve little danger of long-term unintended effects when taken appropriately.

Saline laxatives

Like osmotic laxatives, saline laxatives pull water into the stool. Saline laxatives do that utilizing mineral salts, equivalent to magnesium citrate or magnesium oxide.

Saline laxatives are usually not proper for everybody. For occasion, people who find themselves on treatment to decrease their sodium ranges or are taking other mineral-based drugs, equivalent to medicines to cut back calcium within the kidneys, ought to keep away from saline laxatives.

Saline laxatives are helpful for short-term constipation. Using them for prolonged durations might result in dehydration or trigger an imbalance in other minerals.

Lubricant laxatives

Doctors might suggest laxatives containing oils, equivalent to mineral oil for tough short-term constipation, however they aren’t appropriate for normal use. The oils in these laxatives might keep on with fat-soluble vitamins and make them unimaginable to digest.

Stimulant laxatives

Stimulant laxatives are an excellent choice for quick reduction from painful constipation.

The stimulating impact in these laxatives makes the stool transfer quicker by the colon whereas growing the liquid within the stool. Many fashionable over-the-counter model names include stimulant laxatives.

Stimulant laxatives are usually not protected for normal use. Using them usually might trigger the physique to change into depending on the laxative to have a bowel motion.

Guanylate cyclase-C agonist laxatives

Doctors might prescribe guanylate cyclase-C agonist laxatives in circumstances of persistent constipation that has no identified trigger. These laxatives, together with way of life modifications, might supply an answer for individuals who undergo from persistent constipation. Young kids mustn’t use them.

Which laxatives work quickest?

Stool softeners could also be finest when an individual doesn’t want instant reduction however is seeking to regulate their bowel actions throughout the subsequent few days.

The sort of laxative the physician recommends might also change based mostly on how rapidly the particular person wants reduction. Individual consequence instances might differ, however normally:

  • Quick-relief – saline laxatives are inclined to work very quick.
  • Medium-relief – stimulant laxatives are fast-acting, however nonetheless take a while to work.
  • Slow-relief – other laxatives, together with bulk-forming fibers, stool softeners, and guanylate cyclase-C agonist laxatives, take longer to work.

According to a 2015 study taking a look at constipation in older adults:

  • Osmotic laxatives, together with magnesium citrate and magnesium hydroxide, might produce a bowel motion in 30 minutes to six hours. Others might not take impact for 24 to 48 hours.
  • Stimulant laxatives, equivalent to Dulcolax and Senna, might take 6 to 12 hours.
  • Stool softeners, equivalent to Docusate, might take 24 to 48 hours.
  • Fiber-based laxatives, together with Fibercon and Metamucil, can take 12 to 72 hours.

Natural stool softeners

Prunes include soluble and insoluble fiber.

Doctors usually suggest that individuals fighting constipation make way of life modifications to assist ease their signs.

Many folks can discover reduction from constipation by ingesting loads of water and getting common train.

People can even profit from consuming extra fiber. A study from 2014 stories that growing dietary soluble fiber consumption hastens the transit time and relieves signs in folks with slow-moving constipation.

People can enhance their every day fiber consumption by together with extra fruits and greens of their food regimen. Fiber-rich meals that may assist with constipation embody:

  • Prunes. Prunes may also help folks keep common. They include each soluble and insoluble fiber, which can assist take in water and give physique to the stool.
  • Apples. Apples are wealthy in pectin, a useful soluble fiber. Try together with apples as a snack between meals.
  • Dark, leafy greens. Vegetables, equivalent to spinach, kale, and collard greens, can match into many dishes and are a straightforward method so as to add fiber and vitamins to a meal.

Side results of laxatives

All laxatives include the chance of unintended effects. Some unintended effects are momentary, whereas others could also be extreme sufficient to warrant a change in treatment.

Common unintended effects in all varieties of laxatives are:

  • abdomen cramps
  • bloating or gasoline
  • nausea or vomiting
  • diarrhea

Some oral stool softeners might trigger throat irritation when swallowed.

Other unintended effects might differ based mostly on the lively ingredient in every laxative.

Misusing laxatives, equivalent to taking laxatives for prolonged durations, might trigger extreme and doubtlessly harmful signs.

Allergic reactions are additionally attainable with all laxatives. Anyone who’s having an allergic response or is uncertain about their response ought to cease utilizing the laxative and name their physician.

Importantly, laxatives might work together with other medication an individual is taking. People with constipation who take other medication ought to communicate with a health care provider or pharmacist earlier than taking any laxative.


Occasional constipation is regular. Both stool softeners and other laxatives might present momentary reduction from signs, and the selection between them might rely upon how rapidly an individual wants reduction.

People might expertise unintended effects or problems from taking sure laxatives. Anyone experiencing unintended effects that final various days ought to contact their physician to search out out the trigger.


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