If you’re dealing with digestive discomfort or uncomfortable bowel movements, you may think that an over-the-counter medication can help to make this process a little easier. And while laxatives and stool softeners both strive to make bowel movements more comfortable, they do so in different ways and should not be used synonymously. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at which medications help with which symptoms and conditions, and how connecting with a GI specialist can help put your gastrointestinal discomfort behind you.
Understanding Stool Softeners And Laxatives
Before we dive into the uses of each, let’s take a closer look at the basic purpose of each of these medications. A laxative is a medicine that is designed to facilitate or increase bowel movements. A stool softener is a medicine that helps to soften stool so that it becomes easier to pass. Both medications can be used to treat cases of constipation, but again, you will want to fully understand your symptoms so that you move forward with the right option.
Remember, this is just general advice, and we recommend that you consult with a gastrointestinal specialist so that you can pursue a treatment that’s right for you. With that said, oftentimes a stool softener is the preferred choice for patients that are suffering more mild cases of constipation or have other sensitivity issues that could be exacerbated by larger or firmer bowel movements. For example, stool softeners are oftentimes helpful for patients who are dealing with hemorrhoids, who have infrequent cases of constipation or for people who are recovering following a surgical operation or childbirth. Stool softeners work more naturally with the body than a laxative, so their impact on the body and the bowel movement is a little more predictable.
Laxatives tend to be recommended when symptoms are a bit more severe. A provider may recommend a laxative if you are dealing with chronic constipation, severe bloating or fewer than three bowel movements a week. Laxatives can produce some unwanted side effects like dehydration or nausea, so work to stay hydrated and learn how your body reacts to the laxative so that you can take them at an appropriate time.
Regardless of whether you’re taking a stool softener or a laxative, your gastrointestinal specialist will also put extra emphasis on improving your diet. Your diet and fluid intake can help or hurt your GI symptoms, so it’s important to learn how to harness your diet so that it can work towards alleviating symptoms. Some recommendations that your GI specialist will likely make alongside any medication include:
- Staying hydrated and increasing your fluid intake throughout the day.
- Increasing your fiber intake, which typically includes getting more fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Eating more small meals throughout the day instead of fewer large meals, as this can help with the digestion process.
- Consider supplements if you’re finding it hard to get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet from food sources alone.
- Get regular exercise, as this will help fuel the digestion process.
If you follow the above tips and consult with a GI specialist about any concerns you have about any gastrointestinal symptoms you’re experiencing, we’re confident that you’ll be able to effectively treat your issue. For more information, or to talk to a GI specialist about symptoms you’re experiencing, reach out to Dr. Bhatti and the team at Bhatti GI Consultants today at (952) 368-3800.