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I'm in my mid-twenties and have never taken a laxative or used prune juice. I've experienced constipation and general discomfort before, but it never occurred to me that a laxative would be useful and I never really have 6 hours to literally flush down the toilet.

When, if ever, should one use a laxative?

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Laxatives can be of multiple types - from simple dietary roughage to some OTC mineral oils to prescription intestinal stimulants, there are simply a wide range of substances that can loosen stools and increase bowel movements.

When should one take a laxative? I would say everyday. Dietary fibres are very good laxatives in normal individuals. Any diet should include plenty of dietary fibres. They also reduce the risk of colorectal carcinomas and reduce cholesterol and are all the more reasons to include in the diet - especially in the western population. For someone who follows a regular food habit and is generally healthy there won't be any reason to take anything else to increase bowel movements. So in short, dietary fibres(roughage) should be your everyday laxative.

If you are acutely constipated for some reason, and is making you miserable, and do not have any other symptoms(such as vomiting, abdominal pain, blood in stool, etc) then you can take an over the counter laxative for one day and see if it resolves the issue. That can be simple mineral oil, castor oil, Isapghula, etc. If a single dose of any of those does not improve your costipation, then you should consult a doctor. The doctor can look at the cause of constipation and prescribe a medicine for you appropriately for a short duration of time. Some people who take certain pills (opiod narcotics for example) are likely to be chronically constipated. In that case one may have to use laxatives for a long duration of time, but that decision is taken by a doctor.

The reason why it is not recommended to take a laxative for a long duration of time without a good reason is that some laxatives reduce cause colonic tissues to wear out over time and make the patient permanently consipated(laxative gut) There is also the risk of reduced nutrient absorption, fluid and electrolyte imbalance, intestinal paralysis, irritable bowel syndrome, factitious diarrhea, etc. So chronic use of stimulant laxatives should be avoided whenever possible.

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With most off-the-shelf oral laxatives, prune juice, or a couple of Kiwi fruits, they only have a mild laxative effect. They should be used when constipation first becomes painful, and will rarely cause more than one or two irregular bowel motions

Most of these laxatives will require some hours to work, often overnight is the recommended time frame. And they produce a reasonably normal bowel motion when they do work

e..g dulcolax, miralax, phillips etc

They should not require you to sit on the toilet for six hours. If they did, you do need to see a doctor

Constipation is a good sign you need to change your diet to suite your body better, and if frequent, a sign you need to see a doctor

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    This post has the makings of a very good answer, but here on Health, we strongly encourage using references. They are the only way in which we can tell if information is reliable or not. If you are struggling to find good sources, check out, What are reliable sources? If you want to learn more about our site's stance on answers without references, check out, Should answers without references be immediately deleted? – JohnP Jun 30 '15 at 17:10
  • @JohnP How are the actual manufacturers production information pages not considered references? – TFD Jul 1 '15 at 7:28
  • Here's the page for dulcolax-clinically proven to relieve occasional constipation and irregularity overnight/Relieves constipation and irregularity overnight/Comfort-coated tablets for gentle, predictable constipation relief/The comfort-coated tablets are easy to swallow, and they are gentle on your stomach. So, you can trust Dulcolax® for safe, effective relief of constipation./The #1 doctor recommended stimulant laxative brand/Brand trusted for effective constipation relief for over 60 years/Contains the active ingredient bisacodyl. Nothing there answers the question, it's only a description – JohnP Jul 1 '15 at 14:26
  • @JohnP I trust you where just being humorous, and not disingenuous. The link failed to copy properly. Other links where to FAQ page, just that one landed on summary page, and you needed to click FAQ. Have fixed now though – TFD Jul 2 '15 at 9:22
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    Again - It doesn't answer the question. It's just a description of the laxative. Please provide links corroborating when you should take laxatives, not just descriptions of the laxatives. If this can't be provided, your answer may be deleted for not following site guidelines regarding references. – JohnP Jul 2 '15 at 14:36

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