How to Use Laxatives

take laxativesDifferent Laxatives take different amount of times till they work. You want to know when to expect a motion so you can be close to the toilet.

Bulk-Producing Laxatives

Bulk laxatives - Do not swallow in dry form. Mix according to manufacturer's instructions, drink, and follow with a second glass of liquid. Drink plenty of fluids while taking this medication. Effects usually occur within 12 hours, but may take up to 2 or 3 days.

Hyperosmotic Laxatives

Saline type - They are for short-term use only. Saline laxatives usually will produce its effect within 1/2 hour to 3 hours depending on amount taken and if there is any food in the stomach. Larger doses on an empty stomach produce the fastest results. Do not exceed the manufacturer's recommended dose unless instructed to do so by the health care provider. Solid forms must be completely dissolved before swallowing.

Because of relatively short response time, saline laxatives are not usually given at bedtime or late in the day unless the dose is relatively small and given with food.

Hyperosmotics - Take each dose with a full glass of water or fruit juice, and follow with a second glass of liquid. The taste may be improved by taking the medication with citrus juices or citrus flavored carbonated beverages.

Rectal types work within 2 - 5 minutes

Lubricant Laxatives

Mineral oil - Do not take within 2 hours of mealtime to prevent possible interference with the digestion of the food and the absorption of nutrients and vitamins. It is best to take mineral oil at bedtime. The effects of this medication usually occur about 6 to 8 hours after taking it, except mineral oil enemas, which take about 2 to 15 minutes to work.

Commonly administered at bedtime, when slower peristalsis allows longer transit time to improve laxative effect. If administered at bedtime, patient should not be reclining to avoid aspiration of oil droplets.

Because mineral oil may interfere with absorption of oil-soluble nutrients and/or medications, this type of laxative is not administered within 2 hours of meals or other medications.To avoid oil leakage through the anal sphincter, the dose of mineral oil may be reduced or divided, or a stable emulsion may be used instead.

Stimulant-Producing Laxatives

Stimulant laxatives - Take on empty stomach for faster results. Many of the stimulant laxatives may be taken at bedtime with a snack and the effects will occur the next morning (6-8 hrs later) except castor oil. Because of its shorter response time, castor oil is not usually taken at bedtime or late in the day. Some however may take 24 hours or longer to produce the desired effect.

Castor oil usually works within 2 to 6 hours. To mask the flavor of castor oil, chill it for at least an hour prior to taking it. Or if you don't like cold drinks try in a little warm water.

Do not crush, chew, or take bisacodyl tablets within an hour of milk or antacids. The effects of phenolphthalein may last up to 3 days for some people.

Bisacodyl enemas and suppositories take about 15 minutes to 1 hour to work. Bisacodyl tannex (bisacodyl and tannic acid complex) should not be used if multiple enemas are required. If absorbed in sufficient amounts, tannic acid is hepatotoxic.

Senna enemas and suppositories take between 30 minutes to 2 hours to work.

Cascara, danthron, and/or senna preparations may discolor alkaline urine pink to red, red to violet, or red to brown. Acid urine may be discolored yellow to brown with cascara and/or senna preparations.

Stool Softeners

Stool softeners - Liquid forms may be taken with milk or fruit juice to improve their taste. Effects usually occur within 1 to 2 days but may take up to 3 or 5 days.

Docusate suppositories - These take about 2 to 15 minutes to work.

Because stool softener laxatives may increase absorption of other laxatives, including mineral oil, they are not given within 2 hours of such preparations.

The bitter taste of some liquid preparations of this type of laxative may be improved by diluting each dose in milk or fruit juice.


Suppositories - Keep in the refrigerator, not the freezer, until needed. Unwrap the foil and moisten the suppository with cold water. Lie on the side and gently insert the suppository. The suppository should be inserted well into the rectum.

For rectal dosage forms - Lubrication of anus with petroleum jelly is recommended to prevent rectal abrasion and/or laceration produced by the insertion of a hard enema tip.

Lubrication of suppositories with mineral oil or petrolatum is not recommended since it may interfere with the action of the suppository. Instead, the suppository should be moistened with water by placing under a water tap for 30 seconds or in a cup of water for at least 10 seconds, before rectal insertion.

Carbon Dioxide Releasing Laxatives

Carbon dioxide releasing laxatives - These releasing suppositories take about 5 to 30 minutes to work. If you miss a dose, take or insert as soon as remembered.

Proper Use

For Oral Dosage forms - With the possible exception of bulk-forming laxatives, more rapid results are obtained when laxatives are taken on an empty stomach. When taken with food and/or at bedtime, results tend to be delayed.

Intake of at least 6 to 8 full glasses (240 mL each) of fluid per day is necessary to aid in producing a soft stool and to protect the patient against dehydration when large volumes of water are lost with passage of the stool.

If prescribed or recommended by your health care provider, follow his or her instructions.

If treating yourself, follow the instructions on the box.