Unfortunately, stomach pains are a side effect of laxatives. There are several approaches to solving this problem. Laxative side effects can be treated with over-the-counter medications like paracetamol and codeine. Rest, a straightforward home cure, is another technique to relieve pain. Sleep improves bodily performance and can lessen any stomach discomfort you may be experiencing.1
Why are laxatives used?
Laxatives can help alleviate constipation and encourage regular bowel movements, which can have a significant impact on your digestive health. Constipation, a disorder marked by irregular painful bowel movements, is frequently treated with laxatives. There are several varieties of laxatives on the market, which have different mechanisms of action, onset periods, and durations of action in the body.
Different types of laxatives
Different laxatives function in various ways.
- Lubricant laxatives - Lubricant laxatives work by covering the faeces with a water-resistant layer to facilitate their transit through the gut. This enables the faeces to retain its moisture while also passing through the gut more quickly. The effects of lubricant laxatives last 6 to 8 hours. One lubricating laxative that comes in liquid or rectal form is mineral oil.
- Bulk-forming laxatives - these are laxatives that cause you to pass more bulk and work similarly to the fibre you get from food. They aid in water absorption into your intestines. Stools become softer and bigger as a result, making them easier to pass. They take between 12 and 24 hours to start working and between 48 and 72 hours to fully take effect.
- Saline laxatives - Liquid salts make up these laxatives' composition. For the purpose of promoting bowel movements, they pull water into the small intestine. Among saline laxatives, magnesium citrate is one kind. They are used as a temporary constipation remedy. The time it takes for these laxatives to work ranges from 30 minutes to 3 hours.
- Osmotic laxatives - These aid in the colon's ability to retain more water, resulting in more frequent bowel movements. Osmotic laxatives, such as hyperosmotic laxatives, work by increasing the fluid content of your bowels. This increase in fluid might facilitate stool passage through the gut by softening it. Hyperosmotic laxatives come in a variety of forms and are categorised according to their active components.
- Stimulant laxatives - The intestinal muscles contract when you use stimulant laxatives. This makes it easier for faeces to go through your bowels. It might take this kind of laxative 6 to 12 hours to start working
- Suppositories - A drug that is placed into your rectum is called a suppository. The drug dissolves after being introduced and enters the bloodstream. Suppositories can either work to soften the stool or activate the muscles in your intestines to help with stool movement, depending on the active component. The quickest method of treatment—within 15 to 30 minutes—is suppositories.
- Stool softener - These make stools softer and simpler to pass through by increasing the quantity of water they absorb.
While using over-the-counter laxatives often might result in electrolyte disturbances and changes in the body's salt and mineral balance, they can also be highly beneficial in treating constipation. Try using some natural laxatives in your regimen if you want to establish regularity. In addition to having few adverse effects, they can be affordable, safe alternatives to over-the-counter medications.
- Coffee - Coffee may make some people feel the need to go to the restroom more frequently. Caffeine, which is usually found in coffee, may shorten the time it takes for things to pass through your digestive system.2
- Sugar substitute - Overuse of some sugar substitutes might have a laxative impact. This is due to the fact that they mostly travel through the stomach unabsorbed, pulling water into the intestines and accelerating gut transit. For sugar alcohols, which are poorly absorbed in the digestive system, this mechanism is particularly true. It has been researched if lactitol, a form of sugar alcohol made from milk sugar, may be used to treat persistent constipation.3
- Water - For proper hydration, regularity and to avoid constipation, you must drink plenty of water. According to research, maintaining hydration helps ease constipation by making stools more passable and enhancing stoma consistency.4 Additionally, it may intensify the effects of other organic laxatives such as fibre. Getting enough water each day is crucial for good health in general.
- Prunes - Among all natural laxatives, prunes are arguably the most well-known. Sorbitol, a kind of sugar alcohol, is present in them, and when sorbitol is ingested in excessive quantities, it has a laxative effect.
- Chia seeds - these are particularly high in fibre. A natural remedy for constipation, fibre is one of the initial lines of defence. It passes through the digestive tract undigested, giving faeces more volume and promoting regularity. According to studies, increasing your fibre intake might promote more frequent bowel movements and soften stools for easier passage.5
Which laxative is suitable for you, then?
It might be challenging to predict which laxative would be the best one for you. It really depends on the individual. The NHS advises starting with a bulk-forming laxative unless there is a specific reason why one type of laxative may be more beneficial for you than another. Use an osmotic laxative instead of, or in addition to, a bulk-forming laxative if your faeces continue to be hard, and consider using a stimulant laxative in addition to a bulk-forming laxative if your poop is soft but still difficult to pass. However, if you're unclear about which laxative to take, it is important to see a doctor or pharmacist.
Side effects of laxatives
Natural laxatives can come with hazardous or unfavourable side effects. Consult your doctor about these before using a natural laxative. Once you stop taking the laxative, these adverse effects should go away because they are often minor. Your risk of experiencing adverse effects will vary depending on the laxative you're using.
Osmotic laxatives may produce nausea, vomiting, bloating, stomach discomfort or cramps, dehydration, and less frequently, dehydration due to insufficient fluid consumption.
Bloating and flatulence can be brought on by bulk-forming laxatives. Inadequate fluid intake or excessive dosages might block the digestive tract.
Abdominal pains, diarrhoea, nausea, and vomiting can all be brought on by stimulant laxatives. Senna may cause urine to have a yellowish-brown colour.
You should be aware of the following risks while using laxatives:
- Complicating circumstances - If a serious ailment, such as appendicitis or a bowel blockage, is what's causing your constipation, using laxatives can be risky. Using some laxatives often for weeks or months might reduce your colon's capacity to contract, which can exacerbate constipation.
- Precautions for children and expectant mothers - Without a doctor's prescription, never give laxatives to children younger than six. Consult your doctor before using laxatives if you're expecting. While stimulant laxatives may be dangerous, bulk-forming laxatives and stool softeners are often safe to take while pregnant.
- Prescription drug interaction - Your options for laxatives may be limited by your medical history and current drug regimen. Several antibiotics, as well as some heart and bone drugs, may interact with laxatives. Make sure to carefully read all labels, and consult your pharmacist or doctor if you're unsure whether to use a certain laxative. Unless your doctor instructs you otherwise, don't take more medication than is advised.
Laxatives and eating disorders
Laxative use in conjunction with an eating disorder is another factor to think about. Studies repeatedly demonstrate that at some time during their disease, more than half of people with eating disorders abuse laxatives.6 Due to the ingestion of tiny amounts of food and the resulting slowing of stomach motility, constipation is a typical symptom of anorexia nervosa. Patients frequently struggle with the feeling of having eaten and take laxatives to alleviate this discomfort, in an attempt to prevent gaining weight. Given that stimulant laxatives are stronger than bulk-forming or osmotic laxatives and are available in tablets, people suffering from anorexia nervosa prefer to use these kinds of laxatives. Patients may have considerable potassium and sodium depletion as well as acute dehydration even with short-term use.
Chronic laxative usage is widely known to cause long-term loss of intestinal motility. However, when low body weight and muscular wasting are present, the problem is made even worse. In addition to aggravating constipation, individuals also experience rectal prolapses, which can be challenging to treat because the patient is too underweight to get anaesthesia. Relapses are frequent and healing is also gradual.6
Easing Stomach Cramps
- Paracetamol - A typical pain reliever used to alleviate aches and pains is paracetamol. It is also a component of many other antiviral medications. In this instance, it might be used to lessen stomach discomfort brought on by laxatives.
- Codeine - Codeine is a pain reliever that belongs to the class of drugs known as opiates. It can be used to treat abdominal pain. When over-the-counter pain relievers like paracetamol, ibuprofen, and aspirin have failed to relieve the discomfort, codeine is usually the next choice. Diarrhoea can also be treated with codeine. To stop pain signals from reaching the rest of the body, it acts in the brain and central nervous system. Additionally, it lessens the tension and worry brought on by pain.
The prescription drug codeine is available in the form of pills, a liquid that you swallow, and an injection. Injections of codeine are typically exclusively administered in hospitals. Codeine is also available from pharmacies at a lower potency. It is offered together with aspirin or paracetamol or ibuprofen.
There are ways to cure stomach cramps at home or get fast relief. While some at-home remedies calm the stomach muscles to halt spasms, others address the underlying causes of muscular spasms. Before attempting any home cures, discuss your stomach cramps with your doctor if you are pregnant. Some DIY remedies might not be suitable for use while pregnant.
- Heat - Put a heating pad on your stomach as a quick fix. Your outer stomach muscles will relax as a result of the heat, which also encourages digestion. It typically works best when you lie down. Keep it on your stomach for at least 15 minutes.
- Rest - According to a new study, sleep deprivation is closely related to stomach disturbances.7 A good night's sleep helps your body function better and can reduce any stomach discomfort you may be feeling.
- Chamomile tea - Light and delicious, chamomile tea is frequently regarded as one of the most calming varieties of tea. It's frequently used to soothe the muscles in your digestive tract and treat conditions like bloating, indigestion, motion sickness, nausea, and diarrhoea.
- Electrolytes - To assist you in using the restroom, the muscles in your digestive system must contract appropriately. So diarrhoea, constipation, and cramps can be brought on by either high or low electrolyte levels. Thus, it is crucial to keep electrolyte levels balanced because frequent use of laxatives can result in electrolyte imbalances, dehydration and mineral deficiencies.
- Antacids - In order to treat indigestion and heartburn, antacids work to balance out the acid in your stomach. In a few hours, they can swiftly make your symptoms go away. However, they do not address the underlying cause and prolonged use is not advised.
The health of your digestive system may be significantly impacted by the use of laxatives to relieve constipation and promote regular bowel movements. Bulk-forming laxatives, osmotic laxatives, stimulant laxatives, and stool-softener laxatives are the four basic categories of laxatives. The side effects you may experience will depend on the type of laxative you're taking, but most laxatives have common side effects like bloating, flatulence, stomach cramps, feeling sick, and dehydration, which can cause headaches and lightheadedness. In the case of developing stomach discomfort as a result of laxative usage, over-the-counter drugs like paracetamol and codeine help alleviate the pain. The discomfort can also be reduced by natural therapies. Think about utilising a heating pad as the heat will cause your outer stomach muscles to relax, and also will aid with digestion.
- Colten HR, Altevogt BM. Extent and health consequences of chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders [Internet]. nih.gov. National Academies Press (US); 2006. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK19961/
- US) M. Pharmacology of Caffeine [Internet]. Nih.gov. National Academies Press (US); 2014. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK223808/
- Lactitol - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics [Internet]. www.sciencedirect.com. [cited 2022 Sep 8]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/lactitol
- Portalatin M, Winstead N. Medical Management of Constipation. Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery [Internet]. 2012 Mar;25(01):012–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3348737/
- Yang J. Effect of dietary fiber on constipation: A meta analysis. World Journal of Gastroenterology [Internet]. 2012;18(48):7378. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3544045/
- Leaf DE, Bukberg PR, Goldfarb DS. Laxative Abuse, Eating Disorders, and Kidney Stones: A Case Report and Review of the Literature. American Journal of Kidney Diseases [Internet]. 2012 Aug 1 [cited 2022 Sep 8];60(2):295–8. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272638612006324
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