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Is it wise to use laxatives for stomach upsets like constipation, bloating?

Sometimes we may need (want) a quick fix in the form of a laxative for an upset stomach especially when the issue is a first-time or rare occurrence. But over time even a rare occurrence like constipation can have an impact when the solution is laxatives. So we ask the question, is it wise to use laxatives for your stomach issues?

Is it wise to use laxatives for stomach issues like constipation, bloating?/Pexels

Over-the-counter laxatives for constipation can help relieve and prevent constipation. But not all of them are good for long-term use and overuse of certain laxatives may lead to dependency and decreased bowel function.

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Stomach issues are rarely an abrupt occurrence. A number of factors including a poor diet, low fluid intake, physical inactivity and several medications, can disrupt normal bowel function and cause constipation.

Most of them are safe and effective in treating occasional constipation in a variety of ways. However, it's very important to read the label directions carefully and to use them as directed. Overuse of laxatives may cause you to become dependent on them for a bowel movement.

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They carry side effects both mild and serious and you should get help when you experience:

  1. Severe abdominal cramps or pain
  2. Unexplained changes in bowel patterns
  3. Severe diarrhoea
  4. Bloody stools or rectal bleeding
  5. Constipation that lasts longer than seven days despite laxative use
  6. Weakness or unusual tiredness
  7. Dizziness

Before using laxatives, it is important to know what is normal for your system. How often you have a bowel movement varies, but people normally have as many as three bowel movements a day to as few as three a week.

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You may be constipated if you have fewer bowel movements than are normal for you. In addition, constipation may involve stools that are difficult to pass because they're hard, dry or small.

However, before turning to laxatives, try these lifestyle changes to help with constipation:

  1. Eat fibre-rich foods, such as wheat bran, fresh fruits and vegetables, and oats. The average adult should get 25 to 31 grams of fibre per day.
  2. Drink plenty of noncaffeinated and nonalcoholic beverages and fluids throughout the day.
  3. Exercise regularly.

Lifestyle improvements relieve constipation for many people, but if problems continue despite these changes, your next choice may be a mild laxative.

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Laxatives work in different ways, and the effectiveness of each laxative type varies from person to person. In general, bulk-forming laxatives, also referred to as fibre supplements, are the gentlest on your body and safest to use long-term.

Even though many laxatives are available over the counter, it's best to talk to your doctor about laxative use and which kind may be best for you:

  1. Oral osmotic laxatives draw water into the colon to allow easier passage of stool. 
  2. Oral bulk formers absorb water to form soft, bulky stools, prompting normal contraction of intestinal muscles.
  3. Oral stool softeners add moisture to stool to soften stool, allowing strain-free bowel movements.
  4. Oral stimulants trigger rhythmic contractions of intestinal muscles to eliminate stool.
  5. Rectal suppositories trigger rhythmic contractions of intestinal muscles and soften stool.
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