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How to Treat Constipation And Over-The-Counter Medications

Constipation can be caused by many different factors including:

  • Dehydration and low daily water intake

  • Too much dairy, fast, fatty, fried foods, red meats

  • Alcohol consumption

  • Certain medications

How to Treat Constipation

  • Increase dietary fiber intake (whole grains found in cereals, breads, and brown rice, beans, vegetables and fresh or dried fruits)

  • Increase water intake, drink at least 8 glasses of water a day

  • Decrease fatty food intake such as milk and cheese, processed foods and red meats

  • Regular exercise can help the bowels move and help with constipation

  • Take medications to relieve constipation

Over-the-Counter Treatment

Docusate Stool Softeners

  • Acts by allowing water and fatty substances mix

  • Usually used as a preventative measure and not treatment of constipation

  • Can be taken with other constipation medications for increased effect


  • 100mg or 1 capsule once to twice daily

  • 12 to 72 hours onset

Side Effects

  • Mild nausea

  • Abdominal cramps

Psyllium / Metamucil Bulking Agents

  • Safest type of laxative

  • Adds water to increase stool weight a consistency


  • 3.6g once to 3 times a day

  • Must be taken with water or else can make constipation worse

  • Take other medications 2 hours apart

  • Suitable for long term use

Side Effects

  • Bloating

  • Gassy

  • Abdominal discomfort

Senna and Bisacodyl Stimulants

  • Stimulates the bowels to promote fecal matter movement


  • Senna: 1 to 4 tabs at bedtime

  • Bisacodyl: 5 - 10 mg once daily or as needed

  • Onset 6-12 hours

  • Cannot drink with milk or antacids

Side Effects

  • Abdominal pain and cramps

  • Electrolyte imbalance, do not take if your doctor says you have this

Magnesium citrate Osmotic Laxatives

  • Useful for rapid response (Magnesium citrate)

  • Used more for acute situations, not recommended long term

  • Stimulates gut movement


  • 30-60mL once daily or in divided doses

Side Effect

  • Nausea

  • Cramping

  • Diarrhea

PEG Restoralax or Lax-a-Day


  • 17g once daily mixed with water

  • Onset 24-48 hours

Side effects

  • Nausea cramping and diarrhea



  • 1 suppository once to twice daily or as needed

  • Rectal

  • Rapid onset 15 minutes to 1 hour

Side effect

  • Rectal discomfort or burning


  • Psyllium is considered best in pregnancy induced constipation

  • Senna and bisacodyl can be used in the short term

  • Do not use docusate ( ineffective)

  • Castor/Mineral oils


  • Glycerin suppositories

  • Lactulose

  • PEG

  • Bisacodyl can be used above age of 3

  • Senna can be used above age of 2

When to Talk to Your Doctor

  • Blood in your stool

  • Constant and excessive straining during bowel movements

  • Constipated for a long period of time (3 weeks or more)

  • Stomach pain associated with constipation

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