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What is a Stimulant Laxative?

Nicole Madison
Updated Feb 22, 2024
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A stimulant laxative is a substance intended to stimulate a bowel movement and help relieve constipation. In some cases, however, these substances are also used to prepare a person for bowel surgery. Unlike some other types of laxatives, stimulant laxatives don’t work by forming a bulkier stool or by softening them alone. In most cases, they actually increase the muscle contractions vital for having a bowel movement, and they may soften stools as well. In fact, many stimulant laxatives produce a loose stool that is similar to what a person may pass when he has diarrhea.

There are many forms of stimulant laxative a person can take. They are often found in pill or liquid form, but can also be found as powders or suppositories. A person who needs a stimulant laxative can typically purchase one over the counter, but a doctor may prescribe this type of medication as well. In most cases, stimulant laxatives are meant to be taken along with a full glass of water, and some may be more effective if they are taken on an empty stomach. In many cases, a person is advised to take stimulant laxatives right before going to bed, as they will often produce a bowel movement once a person gets up in the morning; some may take a shorter or longer time to act, however.

In most cases, people are advised against using stimulant laxatives for more than a few days to a week, except when a doctor recommends longer usage. Likewise, individuals are typically warned against exceeding the recommended dosage listed on over-the-counter medications or the prescription label. Exceeding the recommended dosage may prove harmful for the body. Additionally, doctors typically warn against using stimulant laxatives as weight loss agents. This may lead to dependency and other adverse health effects.

Taking a stimulant laxative is usually an effective way to produce a bowel movement. Unfortunately, however, this type of laxative is associated with a range of side effects. For example, a person who is on a stimulant laxative may experience uncomfortable stomach cramping, nausea, and diarrhea; some people may even vomit while they are taking this type of laxative. It is also possible that a person will experience more serious side effects while on this type of laxative, including pain, bloody stools, and dizziness. If a person notes such symptoms, he is usually advised to call a doctor right away.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Mar 21, 2013
I don't react well to stimulant laxatives. They make me go, but I experience severe cramping, gas and pain in the process. The side effects are almost worse than constipation!
By donasmrs — On Mar 21, 2013

@fBoyle-- I get frustrated when I hear about people like that. Technically, any type of laxative that's used regularly can cause dependence. Even the regular use of constipation suppositories can lead to dependence.

Doctors always warn against using stimulant laxatives for long periods. Even if a doctor has not warned about it, we all should be doing our own share of research about the drugs we use.

Sometimes stimulant laxatives are necessary. It's okay to use them once in a while for emergency situations or before surgery. Why are we blaming the drug when it's people who are not using them properly?

By fBoyle — On Mar 20, 2013

I experience constipation from time to time but I avoid stimulant laxatives completely. I much prefer taking an osmotic laxative or using a glycerin suppository.

I know someone who used stimulant laxatives for chronic constipation for years. He is now completely reliant on them. His body has forgotten how to start a bowel movement without them. He relies on the medication to start the required contractions. It's quite sad.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a WiseGeek writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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