Laxatives vs Stool Softeners: Difference and Comparison

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 different mechanisms of functioning.

Key Takeaways

  1. Laxatives stimulate bowel movements, while stool softeners make stool easier to pass.
  2. Laxatives can cause cramping and diarrhea, while stool softeners do not.
  3. Laxatives work quickly, while stool softeners take longer to work.

Laxatives vs School Softeners

Laxatives are a type of medicine that can treat constipation by augmenting bowel movements or loosening stool, and it can refer to different kinds of medication. Stool softeners are a type of surfactant or emollient laxative that increase the amount of fat and water that your stool absorbs.

Laxatives vs School Softeners

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 prescribed only for short-term constipation as it does not have lasting effects.

Comparison Table

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 category of laxatives.
ComplicationsMost laxatives do not cause complications when taken in moderation.Stool softeners may cause rectal bleeding and severe diarrhoea.

What are Laxatives?

Laxatives are medical products that are used for the treatment of constipation. They work by loosening stools and augmenting bowel movements.

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There are various kinds of laxatives that are 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 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 for people older than 12 years old.

However, a doctor should be consulted before using them for young children. Laxatives 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 a fast heart rate, low blood pressure, dizziness, dehydration, and fainting.

What are Stool Softeners?

Stool softeners are laxatives that specifically loosen the stool as part of the treatment for constipation. They add compounds which increase fat-water absorption for easy movement.

People who should avoid using other laxatives that augment bowel movements 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.

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They 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 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.

And, of course, 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. For 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, facilitating 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.
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

Last Updated : 13 July, 2023

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13 thoughts on “Laxatives vs Stool Softeners: Difference and Comparison”

  1. The article’s emphasis on the main differences between laxatives and stool softeners is a crucial aspect for readers to understand the appropriate usage of these medications.

    Reply
    • The inclusion of references supports the reliability of the article, contributing to its credibility as a valuable source of information on the topic.

      Reply
  2. The article provides a comprehensive overview of laxatives and stool softeners, making it an excellent resource for those seeking a deeper understanding of the topic.

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    • The article’s references lend credibility to the information provided, making it a reliable source of knowledge on the subject.

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    • The detailed comparison table makes it easy to understand the unique mechanisms and effects of laxatives and stool softeners.

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  3. The differentiation between various types of laxatives and stool softeners is well-defined, making the article an informative guide for individuals seeking treatment options.

    Reply
  4. The article’s clear and concise explanations are valuable for individuals seeking information on occasional constipation and the associated medications.

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  5. The article effectively addresses the concerns related to the use of laxatives and stool softeners, offering valuable insights for readers seeking medical advice.

    Reply
    • The inclusion of lifestyle changes and natural stool softeners provides a holistic approach to managing occasional constipation, enhancing the overall quality of the article.

      Reply
    • The comparison of the effects and complications of laxatives and stool softeners is particularly helpful in understanding their respective benefits and risks.

      Reply
  6. As someone with medical training, I can confirm that the information presented in the article is accurate and useful.

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  7. The article’s focus on the distinctive mechanisms and effects of laxatives and stool softeners provides a comprehensive understanding of their roles in addressing occasional constipation.

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  8. The article provides an in-depth comparison between laxatives and stool softeners and effectively helps the reader understand the key differences.

    Reply

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