Laxative abuse can lead to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, organ damage, and dependence. Anyone who misuses laxatives should seek medical advice.
Laxatives are a convenient solution for addressing occasional constipation or related discomfort. Options such as sennosides (Senokot, Ex-lax, Senna) and others are readily available over the counter without a prescription.
Although laxatives are safe for occasional and legitimate use, there exists potential for misuse. Some individuals may use laxatives excessively in an attempt to lose weight. However, laxatives are ineffective for this purpose and can cause potentially serious side effects. These can include chronic constipation, heart problems, and an increased colon cancer risk.
Continue reading to learn more about laxative misuse, including the consequences and how to find help.
People misuse laxatives under the mistaken premise they can support rapid weight loss. The misconception stems from the false notion that laxatives can expel calories from the body before the digestive system absorbs them. However, this is untrue as laxatives act on the large intestine. By the time food reaches this point, the body has already absorbed most calories.
People may feel that laxatives help them lose weight. This is because laxatives induce bowel movements that contain liquids, minerals, electrolytes, and indigestible fiber. As a result, the number on the scale may be lower. However, the “water weight” returns when the person drinks any fluids and the body rehydrates.
Laxative misuse is a
- induce vomiting
- misuse water pills (diuretics)
- exercise excessively
- fast for long periods
Learn more about bulimia nervosa.
Help is available
Eating disorders can severely affect the quality of life of people living with these conditions and those close to them. Early intervention and treatment greatly improve the likelihood of recovery.
Anyone who suspects they or a loved one may have an eating disorder can contact the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, which offers a daytime helpline staffed by licensed therapists and an online search tool for treatment options.
Many other resources are also available, including:
- The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- F.E.A.S.T., which provides support and educational resources to friends and family who want to help someone living with an eating disorder
Details are below:
Frequent laxative use can lead to dehydration due to excessive fluid loss. Symptoms may include:
- dry mouth
- extreme thirst
- reduced urine output
In severe cases, dehydration can lead to death.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Laxative misuse may also lead to IBS and symptoms such as:
- recurring abdominal discomfort
- muscle weakness
- irregular heartbeat
Over time, the colon may stop reacting to the usual laxative dose, necessitating increasingly larger doses to produce bowel movements. This can exacerbate the cycle of misuse.
Prolonged and excessive laxative use can cause lasting damage to internal organs.
Furthermore, the repeated and forceful expulsion of stool can cause physical trauma to the colon lining. This trauma may create openings or tears in the delicate mucus membrane, increasing the risk of bacterial infections.
In certain situations, laxative misuse leads to a medical emergency. People should seek emergency assistance if they experience the following:
- fainting or dizziness
- severe dehydration
- chest pain or irregular heartbeat
A comprehensive approach including medical, psychological, and supportive measures is necessary to treat laxative misuse.
Support from close friends and family is also valuable.
Central to the treatment process is the cessation of laxative use safely and effectively. This may involve gradually reducing laxative use to minimize withdrawal issues while closely monitoring progress.
Because of the established link between laxative misuse and eating disorders, psychological interventions are necessary. These include therapy and counseling. The aim may be to uncover what is driving the behavior.
Supportive measures may include the following:
- electrolyte replacement
- fluid rehydration
- medications to alleviate digestive distress
These can help manage any physical complications of laxative misuse.
People may falsely believe that using laxatives can help them lose weight. For this reason, people with eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa may misuse laxatives in addition to vomiting and fasting.
Laxative misuse can lead to severe health consequences, including dehydration, organ damage, and dependence. Sometimes, these can be life threatening.
Treatment for laxative misuse involves a comprehensive approach. This includes stopping laxative use, psychological intervention, and supportive care.