Cascara bark can be useful in treating hemorrhoids and constipation, or it may be used as a bowel preparation before diagnostic and surgical procedures. Cascara bark contains substances that stimulate the intestinal lining. Also known as cascara sagrada, cascara bark is a stimulant laxative but its use must be carefully monitored. This substance is found in many over-the-counter laxatives and can be purchased at many retailers such as grocery stores, drug stores, and nutrition stores.
When consumed to treat constipation, cascara bark works relatively fast to produce bowel movements, typically in about six hours. It also causes the material in the colon to increase, which exerts pressure on the bowel. This stimulates peristalsis, or contractions, that the colon undergoes when attempting to evacuating its contents. Although cascara sagrada is generally used in pediatric and elderly patients, people of all ages can use it.
When abdominal diagnostic or surgical procedures are ordered, the patient may need to endure a "bowel prep." This procedure involves drinking a substance that works to stimulate the bowel to evacuate its contents. While this procedure can be worse than the actual medical procedure, it is a necessary component of the preoperative routine. Cascara bark preparation is considered a natural bowel prep and generally well tolerated in most people.
Cascara bark preparations can also help relieve hemorrhoids. When constipation occurs or when the stool is difficult to pass, pressure is put on the delicate tissues of the rectal area. This can cause internal or external hemorrhoids to form that can cause irritation, inflammation, and bleeding. A laxative containing cascara bark helps the stool to soften, allowing for easier passage and less straining during a bowel movement.
Preparations containing cascara bark should not be used in those who are pregnant, breastfeeding. These preparations also should not be used by people who have conditions such as Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome, or who experience frequent abdominal pain. Before taking medicine made with cascara, it should be discussed with a doctor who can explain the risks and benefits. In addition, the doctor should be made aware of current medications and medical conditions of the patient.
For patients who can't tolerate cascara products, other remedies are available to treat constipation. Eating a high-fiber diet and increasing fluid intake can bulk up the stool, making it easier to pass. In addition, mild exercise and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can also help relieve the effects of constipation. Commercial over-the-counter stool softeners and laxatives that do not contain cascara are also available, however, their use should be fist discussed with the doctor before beginning treatment.