man on a toilet, overcome constipation

Q. No one knows I have this problem. I have been using the laxative bisacodyl every day for twenty years and have steadily increased the dosage.

I’ve stopped taking it for a few days at a time. Not surprisingly, nothing moves. Are there any studies on this? Might I have done permanent damage to myself? Is it better to cut back slowly or stop altogether and just see what happens? I know it’s not healthy for waste to back up in my body, so I’m worried about stopping AND I’m worried about continuing.

A. You clearly have developed a laxative habit. Bisacodyl is considered a “stimulant” laxative, which means it triggers intestinal contractions. This can lead to loss of crucial minerals such as magnesium and potassium. Cramping and diarrhea are other possible side effects, along with a “lazy” colon that will not function properly without laxatives.

A gradual phase-off under medical supervision may allow your body to reestablish a more natural rhythm, and allow you to overcome your “laxative addiction.”

We are sending you our Guides to Constipation and Digestive Disorders for information on non-drug approaches such as dynamite pumpkin muffins and “Special Constipation Remedy” with bran, applesauce and prune juice.

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  1. Carole
    Southeast U.S.

    A few years ago, when I had a Noro virus, I had an abdominal x-ray that showed a large amount of stool in the intestines, but I had been having small bowel movements two or three times a day. I was surprised to see so much in the intestine. No one said whether that was a normal amount or not. One said, “Yes, that’s a lot.” I went to the gastroenterologist, who told me to take a laxative everyday, along with a fiber supplement. This worked pretty well, and I was taking it along with omeprazole. I began to have swelling, lymphedema, sore joints, to the degree that I had to stop going upstairs. That swelling decreased significantly after I stopped omeprazole; but, now I have a problem with acid that I have been controlling with calcium-based antacids. I sense there is a small amount of swelling in my knees, which I hope will diminish as I lose weight. My concern is that I feel very constipated some days, and I resort to milk of magnesia. Any suggestions as to how to control the acid reflux without causing constipation? I use the ‘nurse’s pudding’ recipe, which sometimes helps a little. I actually enjoy the taste.

  2. Laura

    Hi I am 33yr’s old and started taking laxatives when I was about 17, on some occasions up to 20 a night. I have reduced the amount over the last while and trying to come off them altogether. I am on iron tablets at the minute as well because my iron levels are low which doesn’t help. I have obviously been constipated but when I go my stools come out very thin and in bits. I’m starting to panic that I could have done severe damage and might have cancer. Be grateful for any response, thank you.

  3. lou

    I have been taking nulax for approx 20yrs and after a recent bout of gastro I started to slowly have to increase the amount taken plus a glass of prune juice every morning. I have been told that normal bowel function is impossible if senna is present in the laxative which mine has 6g per box. I am going to see a gastroenteroligist to be weaned. Fingers crossed……..

  4. mariah monique

    I’m not sure what’s going on with me but I’m scared. I have been taking lax off and on for like three years. Maybe four. I stopped during my pregnancy and took other things for my constipation. I have been fighting constipation since I was thirteen now 22. I have slowed down only two tablets every three to four days.

    Almost completely off them then felt really backed up now after taking g two tablets I’ve went potty and the following day my stomach hurts so bad I want to cry it hurts through my entire abdomen through my back really bloated and fibrillation going to doctor but my husband is out of town and I have two children to take care of.

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