Tips for Laxative Use

Many parents (and even some physicians) worry about giving children laxatives.  But most of these concerns are based on myths – not facts.  Nearly all laxatives work by keeping water in the stool, allowing these medicines to be used for a very long time without significant risk.  In the UcanPoopToo program, medications are discussed in detail, and there is no convincing evidence that any of the laxatives discussed in the program are harmful and will result in dependency.  Further, there is no good evidence that any of the laxatives described in the UCanPoopToo program lose their effectiveness over time.  Obviously, as children get older, larger amounts of laxative may be necessary, but increased dosage is usually the result of the stage of the problem and the age of the child – not dependency.  One of the greatest fears voiced about laxatives is parental worry that prolonged laxative use will result in colon cancer.  But there is absolutely no good data to suggest that using laxatives places children at increased risk for developing colon cancer later. What is clear is that not keeping children cleaned out with medication, enemas, and/or diet can lead to impaction and continued encopresis.  In the UCanPoopToo program, the Medication Core and Laxatives and Health Module provide additional information on the role of medicine and some of the common misconceptions about taking daily medicine.  Be sure to talk to your child’s physician about your worries about laxatives and get your all of your questions answered.  Although giving children medication can be anxiety-producing, getting answers to your questions can help you make the best choice for your child.  You may also want to read an excellent article from Dr. Muller-Lissner and colleagues in the 2005 issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology titled, “Myths and Misconceptions about Chronic Constipation.”

This tip and the UCanPoopToo program are not a substitute for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis, care or treatment. We recommend that you always seek the advice of a physician or other health care professional for all health-related matters.

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