When it comes to laxative use, too much of a good thing can have consequences.
Over-the-counter laxatives offer a generally safe way to treat constipation when used as directed. But relying on these medications for regular bowel movements can lead to health problems because long-term use can affect normal intestinal function.
Oral laxatives work in a variety of ways to relieve constipation.
- Bulk formers such as FiberCon or Metamucil add fiber to the colon to make stool softer, denser and easier to move.
- Osmotics such as Miralax or milk of magnesia draw water to the colon, which allows stool to pass easier.
- Stool softeners add moisture to stool helping it to pass easier.
- Stimulant laxatives cause contractions in the intestine to prompt stool to pass.
Dr. Christopher Brown, a gastroenterologist with Tidelands Health Gastroenterology, says laxatives are generally very safe, but that it’s important to make sure you are using them appropriately and to address your specific medical condition.
For example, if you have diverticulitis, you don’t want to take certain types of laxatives because they can further constrict the colon’s ability to contract. And overuse of certain types of laxatives can cause the muscles and nerves in your colon to stop working as they should.