Laxative drugs



Laxatives are substances used since ancient times to help empty the intestine in case of constipation or constipation.

Common laxatives can be purchased at pharmacies, supermarkets, and (some types) herbalists, without a prescription. Their incorrect use or abuse can have undesirable effects which, depending on the type of laxative used, can also become serious. For this reason, it is always advisable to consult your doctor in order to choose the most suitable type for your case and to be able to control the negative effects if a prolonged use is necessary over time.

This page provides general information and indications on the subject.

For specific information on the individual active ingredients belonging to this class of drugs, you can visit the website of the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) by clicking HERE. To search for a drug using the trade name and not the active ingredient, click HERE. All "inside the site you can find all the package leaflets of the drugs and also some additional information. If "revoked" is written next to the drug name, the drug is no longer on the market.

Types of laxatives

Laxatives are not all the same and are commonly divided into four main classes based on how they work:

  • lubricants, the most common is glycerin, which is taken in the form of suppositories or enemas. Sodium docusate and petroleum jelly are also used, which are usually taken by mouth. These laxatives soften and lubricate the stool, making it easier to pass through the intestines.Their excessive and prolonged use can lead to loss of control over the evacuation cycle
  • bulk laxatives, increase the volume of feces; Vegetable fibers, for example bran tablets, psyllium seeds or flax seeds, or other indigestible materials such as methylcellulose belong to this type. Since they absorb a lot of water, their use must be accompanied by the intake of plenty of fluids. These are relatively safe laxatives from the point of view of negative effects, but in some cases they can lead to intestinal obstructions, especially when not enough fluids are taken.
  • osmotic laxatives, that is substances which, even if they do not form a voluminous mass in themselves like fibers, still recall water in the intestine due to their chemical-physical characteristics. This type of laxative, for example, includes lactulose or milk of magnesia. If taken in excess they can lead to imbalances in kidney function or electrolytes
  • stimulants, synthetic chemicals such as bisacodyl and sodium picosulfate belong to this type. Unlike bulk or osmotic laxatives, which take a few days to work, stimulant laxatives have a very rapid effect: around 6-12 hours. This happens because they act on the nerve cells of the intestine, which are stimulated to contract quickly. Among the different types of laxatives, there are those which, if used incorrectly or prolonged, can cause the most serious negative effects, including imbalance of electrolytes and chronic constipation. They are particularly contraindicated for children, the elderly and pregnant women

Regarding the natural stimulants, which include senna, aloe, cascara and rhubarb, it is very important to note that following the New European regulation of March 18, 2021, starting from April 8, 2021, the sale of foods and food supplements containing hydroxyanthracens is prohibited. and their derivatives. These molecules are contained in the plants listed above, and are responsible for their laxative effect, but are now considered too dangerous to health for the benefits they can offer.

Final warnings

Laxatives should never be given to children under six months of age, except on the advice of the pediatrician. It is recommended for everyone, but absolutely necessary for pregnant women and the elderly, to consult with your doctor before taking laxatives. The doctor will evaluate the appropriateness of their use, as well as the type of product most suitable for the individual person.

Finally, we must always remember that the best way to prevent constipation is to follow a "healthy diet and lifestyle. In particular, constipation can be prevented by drinking plenty of fluids, eating fiber (vegetables, fruit, seeds, legumes, whole grains) and regularly engaging in moderate physical activity.


Mayo Clinic. Over-the-counter laxatives for constipation: use with caution (English)

NHS. Laxatives (English)

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