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What Is a Bulk-Forming Laxative?

By Alex Newth
Updated Feb 11, 2024
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A laxative is a medication designed to encourage one's body to evacuate its bowels, often by stimulating the immediate passage of stool. A bulk-forming laxative has the same end result but works differently, using fiber to draw more water to the stool, increasing its size through water absorption and softening the stool in the process. To ensure that an adequate amount of water is absorbed, it usually is recommended that one drink plenty of water when using this medication. Overuse of this laxative, as with most others, can lead to weaker bowels, poor mineral and vitamin absorption, and many other digestive issues.

Most laxatives have compounds that force the user to pass stool immediately or otherwise make stool passage easier. With a bulk-forming laxative, the primary ingredient is fiber. There are various fiber sources, and those with allergies should check the ingredients to ensure the fiber source is safe to use. As with fiber ingested from other sources, use of this laxative type causes the stool to hold and absorb more water, which also makes the stool bulkier.

The added water does more than just increase the size of the stool. Bulk-forming laxative medications also make the stool much softer, which makes it easier to pass. This means these laxatives tend to be the easiest on the system, because they do not force users to pass stool, it just makes it easier naturally.

There usually is a large supply of water in the human body, so a bulk-forming laxative can easily borrow some to draw into the stool. At the same time, it usually is recommended that one drink a healthy amount of water throughout the day to avoid accidental dehydration while taking such medicine. Drinking water right after taking the medication also is recommended to ensure that the body has enough water to allow the laxative to work. A healthcare professional will sometimes request that the user not drink water beforehand; in this case, it is best to listen to the professional, because some conditions can make drinking extra water hard on the body.

While a bulk-forming laxative is easier to use when compared to most other laxatives, there can be problems if the laxative is overused. The bowels may weaken because they no longer are used to passing stools without a laxative, minerals and vitamins may not absorb correctly because the stool is too quickly expelled and rectal bleeding can occur from too much stool being passed. This means a user should only take a bulk-forming laxative’s recommended dosage.

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Discussion Comments
By ddljohn — On Mar 21, 2013

My doctor told me that bulk forming laxatives are good because they don't cause dependency but they have to be taken every day to work. They don't provide immediate relief from constipation.

I'm okay with that but they give me a lot of gas and painful cramps. I'm not able to use them as often as I would like. I wish they had less side effects.

By burcinc — On Mar 21, 2013

@ZipLine-- All forms of insoluble dietary fiber can be included in this category. Bran and psyllium husk are some of the most commonly used. Prunes are also rich in insoluble dietary fiber, that's how they promote regular bowel movements.

I have used psyllium husk a couple of times. It works well but requires drinking a lot of water. Since bulk forming laxatives absorb water, they can cause dehydration.

But this type of laxative is the safest, I prefer it to osmotic or stimulant laxatives.

By ZipLine — On Mar 20, 2013

What are some examples of bulk forming laxatives? Has anyone here used them?

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