Laxatives for Constipation

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Constipation Myths & Facts

Quick GuideDigestive Disorders: Constipation Myths and Facts

Digestive Disorders: Constipation Myths and Facts

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:

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.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/7/2016

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