Difference Between Laxatives and Stool Softeners (With Table)

Occasional constipation is a problem that affects several people for many reasons. It can be extremely uncomfortable and troublesome. There are several over-the-counter medications available at pharmacies for this cause. They are classified under laxatives and stool softeners. Both have a different mechanism of functioning.

Laxatives vs School Softeners

The difference between laxatives and stool softeners is that laxatives are products that generally work on augmenting bowel movements and loosening stool to relieve a person from constipation whereas stool softeners are a type of laxative that add compound to the stool which absorbs water are lubricates it enough for passing.

Laxatives come in various types. They are prescribed to different people according to the problems that are being faced. The most common kind is the one that affects bowel movements. These may even be used as supplements for an enema. They can be taken orally or rectally. However, a person must use them in moderation as high doses lead to diarrhoea.

Stool softeners are a kind of laxative that classify as emollient agents. They enable the stool to absorb water and fats, which causes it to pass easily through the gastrointestinal tract. This action takes place in the small and large intestines. Such medication is generally prescribed only for short-term constipation as it does not have lasting effects.

Comparison Table Between Laxatives and Stool Softeners

Parameters of ComparisonLaxativesStool Softeners
MeaningLaxatives are products that augment bowel movements or loosen stool.Stool softeners specifically work on water and fat absorption of stool which facilitates easy movement.
EssenceA laxative is a broad term that includes several medications.A stool softener is a specific kind of laxative.
EffectsThe effects vary from mild to severe.The effects are the mildest out of all laxatives.
ClassLaxatives include bulk-forming agents, dietary fibre, hyperosmotic agents, lubricants, etc.Stool softeners are emollient agents that fall under the categories of laxatives.
ComplicationsMost laxatives do not cause complications when taken in moderation.Stool softeners may cause rectal bleeding and severe diarrhoea.

What is Laxatives?

Laxatives are medical products that are used for the treatment of constipation. They work by loosening stools and augmenting bowel movements. There are various kinds of laxatives that are generally classified under stimulants, lubricants, and saline laxatives. Each of these functions differently is prescribed for different problems.

The medicine comes in three forms – oral gel capsules, oral liquid and rectal enemas. It generally takes 12 to 72 hours for oral medications to show results in the body. Meanwhile, rectal enemas work the fastest. It takes them only around 15 minutes to start functioning. Regardless, each of them is only used for short-term treatment.

Most laxatives should not be used for more than one week. Moreover, they must be taken in moderation. High doses can lead to problems such as diarrhoea. The medication is safe to use for people who are older than 12 years. However, a doctor should be consulted before using them for young children.

Laxatives generally do not have any side effects. However, they work differently according to the body chemistry of a person. Some problems such as throat irritation, bloating and gas may occur. Other mild effects include fast heart rate, low blood pressure, dizziness, dehydration and even fainting.

What is Stool Softeners?

Stool softeners are a category of laxatives that specifically loosen the stool as part of the treatment for constipation. They add compounds to the stool which increase water and fat absorption, leading to easy movement. People who should avoid using other laxatives that augment bowel movements usually use these. This is in the case of haemorrhoids, heart conditions and other problems.

These medications are available in the form of tablets, capsules, liquids, and syrups. The appropriate time to use them is before bedtime. They generally take about 12 to 72 hours to start their effect. Like other laxatives, these are for short-term relief. If the problem lasts for a longer amount of time, a doctor must be consulted.

Stool softeners have the mildest effects as compared to other laxatives. However, they may often induce severe side effects such as rectal bleeding and excessive diarrhoea. Many a time, doctors prescribe natural stool softeners for those who may not be well suited for the medication. These include a diet of fermented dairy, soups, grains, and various seeds.

Certain changes in lifestyle must also be made to get the best results out of these. Foe example, one must avoid skipping meals, have enough water throughout the day and exercise.

Main Differences Between Laxatives and Stool Softeners

  1. Laxatives are products that augment bowel movements or loosen stool whereas stool softeners specifically work on water and fat absorption of stool which facilitates easy movement.
  2. Laxative is a broad term that includes several medications whereas stool softener is a specific kind of laxative.
  3. The effects of laxatives vary from mild to severe whereas those of stool softeners are the mildest put of all laxatives.
  4. Laxatives include bulk-forming agents, dietary fibre, hyperosmotic agents, lubricants, etc. whereas stool softeners are emollient agents that fall under the categories of laxatives.
  5. Most laxatives do not cause complications when taken in moderation whereas stool softeners may cause rectal bleeding and severe diarrhoea.

Conclusion

Laxatives and stool softeners are related to one another but there are several differences between them as well. The most noticeable one is their mechanism of functioning. Laxatives generally augment bowel movements whereas stool softeners specifically only loosen stool. Moreover, laxatives are not always stool softeners, but all stool softeners are laxatives.

Another major difference is that most laxatives do not cause severe complications whereas stool softeners can cause certain problems such as rectal bleeding and severe diarrhoea. Therefore, they must be taken in moderation and at correct intervals. If any adverse effect persists, a medical professional must be consulted.

Lastly, the effects of most laxatives vary from mild to severe. On the other hand, the effects of stool softeners are the mildest of them all. Regardless, different medications work well for different people.

References

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1542356508012299
  2. https://journals.lww.com/ajg/Fulltext/2005/07001/An_Evidence_Based_Approach_to_the_Management_of.1.aspx
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