Combination laxatives: Check labels carefully

Some products combine different types of laxatives, such as a stimulant and a stool softener. Combination products may not be more effective than single-ingredient products are but may be more likely to cause side effects. Read labels to make sure you know what you're taking, and use with caution.

Risks of laxative use

Interaction with medications

Your medical history and medications you're taking may limit your laxative options. Laxatives can interact with blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin), some antibiotics, and certain heart and bone medications. Read labels carefully. If you're not sure whether to try a particular laxative, ask your pharmacist or doctor. Don't exceed recommended dosages unless your doctor tells you otherwise.

Complicating conditions

Laxative use can be dangerous if constipation is caused by a serious condition, such as appendicitis or a bowel obstruction. If you frequently use laxatives for weeks or months, they can decrease your colon's ability to contract and actually worsen constipation.

Precautions for pregnant women and children

Don't give children under age 6 laxatives without a doctor's recommendation. If you're pregnant, ask your doctor before using laxatives. Bulk-forming laxatives and stool softeners are generally safe to use during pregnancy, but stimulant laxatives may be harmful.

If you've recently given birth, consult your doctor before using laxatives. Although they're usually safe to use during breast-feeding, some ingredients may pass into breast milk and cause diarrhea in nursing infants.

Take laxatives with caution

Call your doctor immediately if you have bloody stools, severe cramps, pain, weakness, dizziness, unusual tiredness or rectal bleeding. You should also see a doctor if you have unexplained changes in bowel patterns or if constipation lasts longer than seven days despite laxative use. If you're dependent on laxatives to have a bowel movement, ask your doctor for suggestions on how to gradually withdraw from them and restore your colon's natural ability to contract.

Jun. 06, 2014 See more In-depth