written by: BStone
• edited by: Diana Cooper
• updated: 1/16/2011
What options are available for the immediate relief of severe constipation? Learn about some of the different types of laxatives and how to use them safely.
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Regular Bowel Movements
Regular, healthy bowel movements are a sign of well-being. Constipation is a sign that there are problems with the digestive system and the process of elimination. Factors such as a lack of exercise, dehydration and a lack of fiber in the diet can cause constipation. Sometimes hard, difficult-to-pass stools can be a sign of a greater health issue, especially if the problem is frequent.
Whatever the cause, taking action to relive constipation is important. As waste sits in the body, toxins have the chance to accumulate. Side effects such as headaches, bad breath, body odor, indigestion and gas can occur. Over the long term, problems with reluctant bowel movements can possibly contribute to serious health issues such as bowel cancer.
While eating a healthy, high-fiber diet and drinking plenty of water is a safe and effective method for treating constipation sometimes the problem is severe and laxatives are required for relief. Consider the following options for the immediate relief of severe constipation.
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Stool softeners are an effective remedy for constipation. They act by softening the stool to promote easy movement through the intestines. This type of laxative is ideal for those who should not be straining, such as people with hemorrhoids and heart conditions, and new mothers who have recently given birth.
While stool softeners can provide immediate relief, they should be used only when necessary as they tend to have adverse effects on the body. Mineral oil, for example, reduces the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Docusate sodium may cause stomach pain, diarrhea, and cramping. The best time to use a stool softener for severe constipation is when your doctor prescribes the medication to you or recommends use. Before taking this medication make sure you talk to your doctor about any other medications you may be on.
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There are both herbal and chemical laxatives available that stimulate peristalsis by irritating the intestinal walls. They are very effective for quick relief, sometimes aiding a bowel movement within hours. Just as they are potent, they also have possible negative side effects, including dehydration and diarrhea.
If used more than necessary there is a risk of damaging the intestinal walls and creating a dependency as the intestines become used to having peristalsis triggered by the laxatives. Chemical stimulants include bisacodyl and casanthranol. Two of the most popular stimulating herbal laxatives, senna pods and cascara sagrada, are listed below.
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For fast relief, it is also possible to take an over-the-counter fiber supplement or herbal remedy. Some natural substances, such as psyllium husks and bran, increase bulk, improving bowel function. Others, such the stimulating herbs, irritate the intestinal wall, stimulating a bowel movement.
Psyllium is very high in both fiber and mucilage. It is one of the safest natural remedies for severe constipation. Psyllium works by increasing bulk and stimulating the contraction of the intestinal wall. It also has the added benefit of reducing LDL cholesterol levels.
Bran is the outer shell of wheat grain. It is another bulk-forming agent that can safely and effectively encourage a bowel movement when taken with water.
Senna pods are another potent natural laxative that will bring constipation relief. They have a irritating, stimulating effect. To use senna soak three to six dried pods in one cup of warm water for six to twelve hours. Drink the infusion.
Cascara sagrada is another strong herbal laxative that should only be used for severe constipation. To use this herb steep one teaspoon of the dried bark in one cup of water for ten minutes. Drink before going to sleep.
While all of these solutions, from stool softeners to stimulating herbs, can be safely used for the immediate relief of severe constipation, it is important to use them responsibly. Follow the directions on your prescription or packaging and make sure you talk to your doctor about use.
Do not rely on these remedies for dealing with constipation; instead focus on eating a high-fiber diet, exercising, and drinking plenty of water. Also, keep in mind that constipation is often a sign of a greater problem. If problems persist talk to your doctor.
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Balch, Phyllis A. "Prescription for Nutritional Healing." Fourth Edition (Penguin Books, 2006).
"Stool Softeners." (National Institutes of Health) <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0000100>