Description and Brand Names
Drug information provided by: IBM Micromedex
US Brand Name
- A-3 Revised
- CeraLyte 70
- Citrate Of Magnesia
- Fleet Mineral Oil
- GaviLyte-N with Flavor Pack
- Mag-Gel 600
- Phillips Milk of Magnesia
- Resource Benefiber
- Rite Aid Senna
- Suprep Bowel Prep Kit
Canadian Brand Name
- Aromatic Cascara Fluid Extract
- Atoma ClearLax
- Basic Care ClearLax
- Biolax Cascara Sagrada
- Biolax Sp
- Bulk Fiber Therapy
- CareOne Clearlax
- Cascara Sagrada Aromatic Fluid Extract
- Castor Oil
Oral laxatives are medicines taken by mouth to encourage bowel movements to relieve constipation.
There are several different types of oral laxatives and they work in different ways. Since directions for use are different for each type, it is important to know which one you are taking. The different types of oral laxatives include:
Bulk-formers—Bulk-forming laxatives are not digested but absorb liquid in the intestines and swell to form a soft, bulky stool. The bowel is then stimulated normally by the presence of the bulky mass. Some bulk-forming laxatives, like psyllium and polycarbophil, may be prescribed by your doctor to treat diarrhea.
Hyperosmotics—Hyperosmotic laxatives encourage bowel movements by drawing water into the bowel from surrounding body tissues. This provides a soft stool mass and increased bowel action.
There are three types of hyperosmotic laxatives taken by mouth—the saline, the lactulose , and the polymer types:
The saline type is often called "salts." They are used for rapid emptying of the lower intestine and bowel. They are not used for long-term or repeated correction of constipation. With smaller doses than those used for the laxative effect, some saline laxatives are used as antacids. The information that follows applies only to their use as laxatives. Sodium phosphate may also be prescribed for other conditions as determined by your doctor.
The lactulose type is a special sugar-like laxative that works the same way as the saline type. However, it produces results much more slowly and is often used for long-term treatment of chronic constipation. Lactulose may sometimes be used in the treatment of certain medical conditions to reduce the amount of ammonia in the blood. It is available only with your doctor's prescription.
The polymer type is a polyglycol (polyethylene glycol), a large molecule that causes water to be retained in the stool; this will soften the stool and increase the number of bowel movements. It is used for short periods of time to treat constipation.
Lubricants—Lubricant laxatives, such as mineral oil, taken by mouth encourage bowel movements by coating the bowel and the stool mass with a waterproof film. This keeps moisture in the stool. The stool remains soft and its passage is made easier.
Stimulants—Stimulant laxatives, also known as contact laxatives, encourage bowel movements by acting on the intestinal wall. They increase the muscle contractions that move along the stool mass. Stimulant laxatives are a popular type of laxative for self-treatment. However, they also are more likely to cause side effects. One of the stimulant laxatives, dehydrocholic acid, may also be used for treating certain conditions of the biliary tract.
Stool softeners (emollients)—Stool softeners encourage bowel movements by helping liquids mix into the stool and prevent dry, hard stool masses. This type of laxative has been said not to cause a bowel movement but instead allows the patient to have a bowel movement without straining.
Combinations—There are many products that you can buy for constipation that contain more than one type of laxative. For example, a product may contain both a stool softener and a stimulant laxative. In general, combination products may be more likely to cause side effects because of the multiple ingredients. In addition, they may not offer any advantage over products containing only one type of laxative. If you are taking a combination laxative, make certain you know the proper use and precautions for each of the different ingredients.
Most laxatives (except saline laxatives) may be used to provide relief:
for a few days after giving birth.
during preparation for examination or surgery.
for constipation of bedfast patients.
for constipation caused by other medicines.
following surgery when straining should be avoided.
following a period of poor eating habits or a lack of physical exercise in order to develop normal bowel function (bulk-forming laxatives only).
for some medical conditions that may be made worse by straining, for example:
High blood pressure (hypertension)
History of stroke
Saline laxatives have more limited uses and may be used to provide rapid results:
during preparation for examination or surgery.
for elimination of food or drugs from the body in cases of poisoning or overdose.
for simple constipation that happens on occasion (although another type of laxative may be preferred).
in supplying a fresh stool sample for diagnosis.
Laxatives are available both over-the-counter (OTC) and with your doctor's prescription.
Importance of Diet
Laxatives are to be used to provide short-term relief only, unless otherwise directed by a doctor. A proper diet containing roughage (whole grain breads and cereals, bran, fruit, and green, leafy vegetables), with 6 to 8 full glasses (8 ounces each) of liquids each day, and daily exercise are most important in maintaining healthy bowel function. Also, for individuals who have problems with constipation, foods such as pastries, puddings, sugar, candy, cake, and cheese may make the constipation worse.
Make certain your health care professional knows if you are on any special diet, such as a low-sodium or low-sugar diet. Some laxatives have large amounts of sodium or sugars in them.
This product is available in the following dosage forms:
- Capsule, Liquid Filled
- Tablet, Chewable
- Tablet, Delayed Release
- Tablet, Enteric Coated
- Powder for Solution
- Powder for Suspension
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which
information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with
other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could
include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected
health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health
information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of
privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on
the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for subscribing
Our Housecall e-newsletter will keep you up-to-date on the latest health information.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes