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Laxatives commonly used to treat constipation may result in fatal side effects, according to the Food and Drug Safety Administration.
A public health alert posted by the U.S. health regulator on its website on January 2014 says that over-the-counter laxatives “are potentially dangerous if dosing instructions or warnings on the Drug Facts label are not properly followed or when there are certain coexisting health conditions.” There are reports of at least 13 deaths and dozens of severe side effects caused by the constipation drug overdose registered through the MedWatch adverse reporting system.
Laxatives are available in various forms, each containing different ingredients. The most reported of these constipation medications to the FDA for fatal side effects include saline laxatives that contain sodium phosphate and are available in enema form or as generic phospho-soda. Other types of laxatives available with glycerin suppositories, mineral oil, soluble psyllium fiber, and plant fiber methylcellulose also pose health risks, which are considered to be of a lower level.
According to the FDA, sodium phosphate laxatives sold under "Fleet" brand name or as generic products or store brands have been reported for causing fatalities and serious side effects. Consumers have experienced severe dehydration following use of these constipation medications. There have also been reports of electrolyte anomalies leading to potential kidney damage and other fatal consequences.
Fleet withdrew its oral non-prescription laxatives containing higher doses in 2008 after the FDA issued warnings citing potential side effects. However, the company continued with the enemas claiming it as safe product.
The FDA wants consumers to pay attention to drug label instructions mentioned on the over-the-counter laxatives prior to using them to overcome constipation. For example, a sodium phosphate laxative, as mentioned on its label, must be limited to a dose per day and should not be used continuously for more than three days at a stretch. “Equally important, consumers who do not have a bowel movement after taking an oral or rectal dose should not take another dose of the product,” the FDA warning reads.
New regulatory instructions on Laxatives advise that adults above 55 and children should avoid using the constipation medication unless prescribed by health care professionals, as they are at an increased risk of side effects. Those already facing dehydration may face fatal consequences as laxatives draw water from various body parts increasing the dehydration level. The onset of dry mouth and light headedness along with thirst are common symptoms when laxative side effects cause acute dehydration.
The federal regulator has cautioned that people with the following preexisting conditions are at a greater risk of harmful laxative side effects.
Drowsiness and renal disorder
Leg and feet swelling
Delayed bowel emptying
High blood pressure
Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Treated with diuretics or fluid medicines
Having colon inflammation
A laxative is the name of that class of medications, compounds, and supplements that help in easy bowel movement. These are used to relieve bowel and prevent constipation.
Laxatives are available in different forms.
Stimulants administrated orally or through the anus
Bulk-forming agents that induce bowel movement by acting on intestine
Stool softeners that inject food and water into the digestive system
Lubricants, such as mineral oil, to facilitate movement in colon
Osmotic laxatives, such as medications with milk, glycerin, and Lactulose syrup
Hydrating agents, such as saline laxatives
Laxative Side Effects
Types of Laxatives and Side Effects
Laxative Side Effects (Common)
Diarrhea, dehydration, thirst, bloating, nausea, kidney damage
Oral bulk formers
Gastroenteritis, cramps, bloating, intestine choking, dehydration, renal disorder
Rectal irritation, stomach disorder
Diarrhea, dehydration, thirst, belching, nausea, kidney damage, cramping, urine disorder
Oral stool softeners
Throat irritation, cramps
In general laxatives are linked to side effects, such as
irritable bowel syndrome
abnormal heart rhythm
indigestion in the long run
interference with medications and nutrients absorption
weakness, confusion and seizures
According to research studies, patients abusing laxatives are likely to suffer from pancreatitis, kidney failure, intestinal paralysis, loss of nutrients, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Use of laxatives for long may lead to worn out of colon tissues that cannot work normally. Additionally, it also results in deposition of brown pigments, often derived from stimulant laxatives, in the intestine.
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