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- What is constipation?
- What are the causes of constipation?
- When should a doctor be consulted for constipation?
- What natural remedies can a person take for constipation?
- What over-the-counter preparations can be used for constipation?
- Bulk-forming laxatives
- Stool softeners (emollient laxatives)
- Lubricant laxatives
- Stimulant laxatives
- Saline laxatives and osmotic laxatives
- Enemas and suppositories
- How is constipation treated in infants and children?
- How is constipation treated during pregnancy?
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Stool softeners (emollient laxatives)
Stool softeners, called emollient laxatives, prevent hardening of the feces by adding moisture to the stool. The active ingredient in most stool softeners is a medicine called docusate. Agents containing docusate do not by themselves stimulate or increase the number of bowel movements. They are used more to prevent constipation than to treat it.
Stool softeners are commonly recommended for individuals who should avoid straining while defecating, including those:
- who are recovering from abdominal, pelvic, or rectal surgery, childbirth, or heart attack;
- with severe high blood pressure or abdominal hernias; and
- with painful hemorrhoids and/or anal fissures.
Softening the stool in these affected individuals can help reduce pain during defecation.
Stool softeners available OTC include Colace, Surfak, and pharmacy or store-branded products containing docusate. Some preparations (for example, Peri-Colace) combine a stool softener with a stimulant laxative to activate bowel movements.
Precautions for using stool softeners
Stool softeners are generally safe and well tolerated. They should not be combined with mineral oil, a lubricant laxative, because stool softeners may increase the absorption and toxicity of mineral oil. Mineral oil droplets absorbed into the body can deposit and cause inflammation in the lymph glands, liver, and spleen.