How Do Constipation Medications Work?

Constipation medications are an option for constipation, although it's recommended you first try dietary changes. If there aren't any other options, laxative drugs are available.
How Do Constipation Medications Work?

Last update: 03 June, 2021

Constipation medications are commonly known as laxatives. These medications relieve the symptoms of occasional constipation, and are part of the fiber-based treatments that help regulate intestinal transit.

Before using medications for constipation, you should implement a number of dietary and lifestyle measures to prevent or relieve constipation. These measures include changes in the consumption of certain foods and beverages.

Changes in these areas can help relieve constipation by softening the stools and making them easier to pass. To achieve this effect, try to eat more high-fiber foods and drink plenty of water and other fluids.

How can constipation be treated?

It’s possible to relieve and prevent constipation by making lifestyle changes, but another important aspect is to train the bowel to get into the habit. This consists of training yourself to have the need to go to the bathroom every day at the same time, and in this way you will become more regular in your bowel movements.

You can try to practice the training after breakfast, after about half an hour, because after that time it’s easier for the stools to move. You should give yourself enough time, trying to go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the need to go. It’s also a good idea to relax your muscles or put your feet up on a stool to make yourself more comfortable.

Constipation medications

A woman with stomach pain.
Before using medication to treat constipation, you should try habit changes.

In case diet and lifestyle changes aren’t enough to combat constipation, you can resort to the use of laxatives. Depending on their mechanism of action, laxatives are classified as follows:

Laxatives that increase fecal volume

These laxatives act by increasing fecal volume, which leads to stimulation of intestinal motility. This group includes bulk-forming laxatives and osmotic laxatives:

  • Bulk-forming laxatives: These consist of fiber supplements that must be accompanied by abundant water or liquid intake. Fiber acts by absorbing water and modifying the consistency of the stool. Its effect isn’t immediate, and it may take weeks before you notice it. One of the disadvantages of this type of laxatives is that they cause a feeling of abdominal distension and flatulence. However, this unpleasant effect disappears after a few days.
  • Osmotic laxatives: Their action is based on their capacity to retain water, thus increasing stool volume. These include macrogol, polyethylene glycol and lactulose.

Stimulant laxatives

These laxatives act by direct stimulation of intestinal peristalsis. The most commonly used are bisacodyl, cascara sagrada and sennosides.

They aren’t ideal as first choice treatment, however they’re a good alternative in case of lack of response to fiber treatment or osmotic laxatives.

Emollient laxatives

The laxative effect is due to the fact that they produce an emulsion of feces with fats and water. These include kerosene oil and glycerin.

natural laxatives
It’s preferable to employ dietary changes before proceeding to the use of medications for constipation, and leave them as a last option.

Other medications for constipation

  • Linaclotide: This is a drug that stimulates the flow of water into the intestinal lumen. This laxative is indicated for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome that results in severe constipation.
  • Prucalopride: This drug increases intestinal contractions. It’s especially indicated in patients suffering from constipation who don’t respond to laxative treatment.

In some cases, it’s necessary to use cleansing enemas in order to avoid possible fecal impaction when several days have passed without being able to defecate.

Diet first

If you’re prone to constipation, try to follow proper eating habits, exercise regularly and have a bowel movement at the same time each day. However, you can resort to the use of the right laxative to solve your type of constipation.

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The increase of the number of patients with constipations problems has cause a significant rise in the consumption of both chemical and natural laxative remedies. These remedies help get rid of the waste that accumulates in the colon, and relieves the symptoms such as bloating, gas, and pains.



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  • Remes, J. M. (2005). Estreñimiento: evaluación inicial y abordaje diagnóstico. Revista de Gastroenterología de México.

  • Informacion Farmacoterapeútica de la Comarca. (2015). Estreñimiento y laxantes. Infac.