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When Laxatives Become a Problem: Understanding the Risks of Overuse | Be Well Medical

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Over-the-counter laxatives are a commonly used medication for constipation relief. While these medications may provide short-term relief, it's essential to understand that laxative abuse can have serious health consequences for your body. This blog post will explore the risks of taking over-the-counter laxatives and provide tips on using them safely.

How Laxatives Work

Laxatives speed up food movement through your digestive system, which helps relieve constipation. Several different types of laxatives are available over the counter, including stimulant, osmotic, and lubricant laxatives. Stimulant laxatives increase muscular contractions in your intestines to move stool more quickly. Osmotic laxatives contain salts or sugars that draw water into your intestines, making the stool softer and easier to pass. Lubricant laxatives contain mineral oil that coats stool, so it moves more quickly through your digestive tract.

The Dangers of Taking Too Many Laxatives

Taking too many over-the-counter laxatives is not recommended due to potential health complications. Stimulant and osmotic laxatives can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances if taken in high doses or for long periods; this can lead to fatigue, weakness, confusion, irregular heart rate, dizziness, and coma or death in extreme cases. In addition, frequent use of stimulants or osmotic laxatives can lead to an electrolyte imbalance called hypokalemia (low potassium levels). This frequent use can cause muscle weakness, cramping, irregular heart rhythm, and chest pain. Long-term use of lubricant laxatives can also lead to dehydration because they interfere with your body's ability to absorb water from food.

Furthermore, overuse of any over-the-counter laxative can make you dependent on them; without regular use, you may suffer from chronic constipation when you stop taking them.

Additionally, if taken excessively, some stimulant laxative ingredients, such as senna, have been linked to certain forms of cancer, including colorectal cancer, according to studies conducted in humans and animals.

Overall, it is essential for individuals who take over-the-counter medications like laxatives for constipation relief to understand both the short-term benefits and risks associated with their usage. Although these medications may provide temporary relief from constipation symptoms, it is essential that individuals follow instructions on dosage carefully, as taking too much could potentially have serious health consequences. Suppose you are experiencing persistent constipation despite the occasional use of OTC medications. In that case, it is best advised to consult a doctor or healthcare provider before continuing its use. Under no circumstances should someone take more than recommended daily since doing so could put one's health at risk. It is always best practice when dealing with any medication - prescribed or otherwise -to consult a medical professional before taking it. It's also essential for anyone using OTC medications regularly speak with their doctor about alternative treatments, such as lifestyle changes that may help reduce their reliance on them. Taking care when using OTC medications is critical in preventing further complications.

Author
Nichole Shiffler, NMD Dr. Nichole Shiffler is a naturopathic primary care physician and medical director of Be Well Medical Primary Care. Dr. Shiffler focuses her practice on women's and pediatric medicine. Dr. Shiffler also has an extensive history of treating irregular menstrual cycles, thyroid disease, menopause, acne, PCOS, and diabetes. She utilizes nutrition and herbal medicine to deliver an effective treatment plan to her patients. Dr. Shiffler is available for patient care at Be Well Medical Primary Care. Call (480) 219-9900 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Shiffler.

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