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What is Docusate?

By A. Garrett
Updated Feb 29, 2024
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Docusate is stool softener. Stool softeners facilitate bowel movements and are often given to patients suffering from hemorrhoids or heart conditions and should not strain. They are also used to treat occasional instances of constipation. Essentially, stool softeners like docusate make stools easier to pass by softening them.

Stool softeners like docusate come in several forms and are generally consumed orally. If a patient is taking the pill form of the drug, he or she should drink 8 ounces (227 g) of water with it. The liquid syrup form of the medicine comes with a special measuring spoon that ensures that the patient consumes the appropriate dose, while liquid drops can be mixed into eight ounces of water or juice. Typically, this medication is taken at night prior to bedtime; people should not take double the dose if they miss a dose the previous night. Docusate does not work immediately and requires two to three nights of regular use before the taking effect.

A laxative like docusate softens stools by infusing the stools with water from the stomach. The water gives the stools a more compressible consistency and allows a patient to pass them with less effort and strain. Consequently, patients suffering from constipation should increase their consumption of water to facilitate relief. Consuming more fiber and exercising regularly also reduces the likelihood of constipation.

The use of stool softeners should not exceed one week. Taking stool softeners for a prolonged period of time may cause the body to develop a dependency on this remedy. Most people experience relief within three days of use. Abnormally hard stools may be indicative of a more severe underlying condition and a doctor should be consulted. Also, the use of docusate should cease if the patient develops diarrhea because severe dehydration may result from prolonged use.

Very few people encounter serious allergic reactions from the use of stool softeners, however there are several possible side effects. People using mineral oil should abstain from using stool softeners however. Pregnant women should refrain from using docusate unless it is absolutely necessary.

The most common form of side effects includes stomach cramping or an upset stomach. If a patient is taking the liquid form of the medicine, he or she may experience irritation in the throat — water counters this effect. Rectal bleeding is the most serious and least likely side effect. Side effects that persist longer than a week may require immediate medical attention.

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.
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