When your colon and digestive tract is healthy, your colon absorbs water from fecal matter, and allows the remaining substance (stools) to pass through and out of your body. Constipation occurs when your colon absorbs too much water, causing your stools to become hard and difficult to pass. There are plenty of good ways to treat constipation, including diet and lifestyle changes, natural remedies, and medication such as laxatives. Increasing your fluid intake and getting more fiber in your diet is always a good first step if you are constipated. Laxatives are usually the last resort to treat constipation, but stool softeners are a milder option that can be tried before a harsher laxative. Stool softeners might also be the preferred option – such as when a pre-existing medical condition like heart disease means you should avoid straining during a bowel movement.
Stool softeners, also called saline laxatives, work by holding more liquid inside the colon so that fecal matter doesn’t become dry as it passes through. Stool softeners have a very different mechanism than other laxatives, which work by forcing your body to expel waste. As such, treating constipation with stool softeners is generally considered safer than with other constipation medication – however they should be avoided by people on low sodium diets, or with kidney failure. Follow the directions of your health professional when using a stool softener and as with any other constipation treatment, a doctor should be consulted if symptoms are serious or persistent. One alternative for treating constipation is Senna. Although Senna is described as a natural stool softener, it is really a laxative and should be treated as such, and overuse avoided. Senna works by irritating your colon and forcing the expulsion of it’s contents.
Stool softeners come in several forms – capsules, tablets, or liquid. They are usually taken before bed, with water or other liquid – Colace stool softener is an example of a common brand, and comes in a liquid form. Some people prefer taking it with something with flavor to mask the taste, which can be bitter. The medication should take effect fairly quickly, improving bowel function within a few days. Don’t continue use for more than a week unless directed by a doctor. A gentler alternative, which is also safe for long term use, are phsyllium husks or Metamucil. It is important to drink extra water when taking a stool softener as it assists in flushing out the toxins and, in the case of phsyllium husks, they absorb fluid in the intestines to make a bulk which is then needed to be flushed out, scrubbing the bowels as it does so to remove all waste.
Side effects of stool softeners
Side effects can include cramps or nausea, and you might experience some irritation if taking a liquid form of the medication. If you experience pain, vomiting or swelling of the throat or airways, you should consult a doctor straight away. However the medication is effective for the vast majority of people.