Advising on constipation treatments

Discover the key benefits of different types of laxatives, and the right questions to ask customers to ensure you know which to recommend


10-minute module

With a wide range of laxatives available, customers may need advice on managing their constipation and which products to try.

Initially, customers should try to make lifestyle changes such as eating more fibre, improving their toilet routine (such as going at a regular time), and maintaining adequate fluid intake, as well as regular exercise.1 If these measures haven't helped, a laxative might be the next step:

  • Bulk-forming laxatives, such as ispaghula husk, could be tried first. These increase the bulk of the stool and stimulate bowel movement (peristalsis) and may take a few days to work. Note: Bulk-forming laxatives shouldn't be used by those taking opioids.2,3

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    If these measures are not successful, osmotic laxatives (which draw water from the colon into the stool) or stool softeners (which decrease stool surface tension to allow liquid penetration into the stool to both soften it and stimulate peristalsis) can help ease symptoms.2,4 They can take 1-3 days to have effect.2,5

  • If customers are still straining to poo, stimulant laxatives (which act to stimulate the nerves in the gut) can act within 6-12 hours, so if they are taken at night, customers should expect a bowel movement in the morning.


The licensing and packaging of stimulant laxatives has been changed. GSL stimulant laxative products are licensed for adults over 18 years of age only; products for children over 12 are available as P medicines.
Products available for general sale will be limited to a pack size of two short treatment courses (up to 20 standard-strength tablets, 10 maximum-strength tablets or 100ml solution/syrup).

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