Being constipated is uncomfortable and can make life unbearable. Several factors such as travel, poor diet, illness, some drugs, pregnancy and physical inactivity can cause constipation by disrupting normal bowel movement. Luckily, there is medicine for constipation like over-the-counter laxatives that offer quick relief.
Different Types of Medicine for Constipation
- Bulk-forming laxatives
When it comes to dealing with constipation, you start with a bulk-forming laxative. These laxatives help the stool to retain fluids and become softer thus easier to pass and less likely to dry out. The effects of these laxatives will be felt in 3 days or so. Common bulk-forming laxatives include sterculia, methylcellulose and ispaghula husk.
Caution: Do not take bulk-forming laxatives before going to bed, and ensure you drink plenty of water when using them.
- Osmotic laxatives
If stool remains hard even after taking bulk-forming laxatives, you should try osmotic laxatives. These laxatives work by increasing the quantity of fluids in your bowels. This will eventually make your stool softer and stimulate your body to pass it out. Osmotic laxatives that are commonly prescribed includemacrogols and lactulose. Just as with bulk-forming laxatives, drink plenty of water. The effects will be experienced in 2 or 3 days.
- Stimulant laxatives
If your stool is soft, but you have trouble passing it, you should take stimulant laxatives. These laxatives work by stimulating the muscles around your digestive tract in order to help move the stool from the large intestine to the anus. Stimulant laxatives commonly prescribed include sodium picosulphate, bisacodyl and senna. The effects will be felt within 6-12 hours. They are meant for short-term use only.
To make sure you are taking the right amount of OTC laxatives follow these tips:
- Take the recommended dosage on the medicine’s package. Do not assume if you took more it will work faster. It is dangerous to take more than the recommended amount.
- If you also take prescription drugs, check with your doctor if you can take OTC laxatives.
If OTC laxatives do not take away the constipation, visit your doctor for prescription medications.
- Lubiprostone: It is a FDA approved prescription medicine for constipation. It is used when constipation occurs due to unknown causes. It works by increasing water content in the stool making it easier to pass. It is taken twice a day with food. Known side effects include vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and headaches.
- Linaclotide: It is in capsule formand should be taken once daily, 30 minutes before your first meal of the day. It works by assisting bowel movements. However, it is not approved for patients below the age of 17. Known side effect is diarrhea.
- Lactulose: Lactulose works by drawing more water to the bowels to loosen and soften the stool. Known side effects include: stomach cramps, stomach upset, diarrhea and gas.
- Polyethylene glycol: This drug works by retaining water in the stool making it softer. It is recommended for patients who are not able to tolerate supplements for dietary fiber.
Constipation in Pregnant Women
Most laxatives are safe for pregnant women since they are not absorbed in the digestive tract. Therefore, your baby will not feel the effects of the laxative. Osmotic laxatives like macrogols and lactulose are also safe to use during pregnancy.
If they do not work, you can take a small dose of stimulant laxatives like senna and bisacodyl. However, if you are in your third trimester, senna is not recommended as it is absorbed in the digestive system.
Constipation in Children
You might notice your child is passing stool less often than usual or is having problems passing stool. The stool might be small pebbles, and in most cases are dry. Try out these remedies with your child before taking medicine for constipation:
- Drink fruit juice
Fruit juice like prune, apple and pear assist in softening the stool. However, prune juice is an irritant to infants. 2-4 ounces of any other juice is good enough or 4-6 ounces for older infants. Apple juice should not be diluted, but prune juice can be diluted at 1:1 ratio. Once children are past the age of 3, juice is not as helpful since their intestines have developed and can absorb sugar from the juice.
- Eat high fiber foods
Stool passage can be helped by foods like sweet potatoes, whole grains, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, peas, spinach, beans and broccoli. When a child is constipating, avoid feeding them carrots and applesauce.
- Avoid dairy products
Refined carbs can cause toddlers to constipate. Cow, goat and buffalo milk should not be given to a baby or child. If your baby is fed on formula milk, between feeding, give him sips of water or replace one feeding for a week.
- Toilet training
Toilet-train your child by encouraging and motivating him/her. Have a regular routine for the child to go to the toilet. Older children can be asked to sit on the toilet for 10 minutes at least once a day, 30 minutes after a meal.
- Avoid rice cereal and casein formulas
Baby food with high casein and rice cereal content tends to cause constipation. To ease constipation, give your baby formula rich in iron.
The risk of faecal impaction is increased by prolonged constipation. Faecalimpaction is a severe form of constipation that tends to affect disabled and elderly people. In order to release hardened waste in the rectum, the following measures may be used in addition to medicine for constipation:
- A doctor might have to insert a gloved finger into your rectum to break down the solidified waste manually.
- Mineral oil or warm water combined with a gentle enema can be used.
- Suppository is medication inserted through your anus and slowly dissolves at body temperature. It is then absorbed in your blood.
When to call a Doctor
Constipation can occur now and then, but if it becomes a regular condition and it is accompanied with the following signs, consult your doctor as soon as possible:
- Laxatives are not working after weeks of use
- Alternating between diarrhea and constipation
- Weight loss with no good explanation
- Pain in the rectum
- Presence of blood in stool
- Bloating and severe pain in the abdomen
- Sudden onset of constipation accompanied by serious cramping and not being able to release gas