Considerations when using laxatives 

Most people can use laxatives, although not every type is suitable for everyone.

For example, you should check with your GP or pharmacist before using laxatives if:

  • you have a bowel condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • you have a colostomy or ileostomy (where the small or large intestine is diverted through an opening in the abdomen)
  • you have a history of liver or kidney disease
  • you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • you have an obstruction somewhere in your digestive system
  • you have diabetes, as some laxatives can lead to a rise in blood sugar levels, which could be dangerous for a person with diabetes
  • you have difficulties swallowing (dysphagia)
  • you have a lactose intolerance, as some laxatives contain lactose
  • you have phenylketonuria (a rare genetic condition, where the body cannot break down a substance called phenylalanine), as phenylalanine is found in certain bulk-forming laxatives
  • you are taking opioid painkillers, such as codeine or morphine

These situations don't usually mean you can't use laxatives, but they may mean certain types of laxative are more suitable for you than others.

Children and laxatives

Laxatives are not recommended for babies who have not yet been weaned. If they are constipated, try giving them extra water in between feeds. Gently massaging a baby's tummy and moving the legs in a cycling motion may also help.

Babies who are eating solid foods may be able to use laxatives, but you should first make sure your child drinks plenty of water or diluted fruit juice and increase the amount of fibre in their diet. If your child is still constipated, your GP may prescribe or recommend a laxative.

In older children, osmotic or stimulant laxatives are often recommended alongside changes to diet as the first treatment for constipation.

You should always check with your GP before giving your baby or child a laxative.

Read more about treating constipation in children.

Try natural methods first

In adults, constipation can often be relieved by:

  • by drinking more water
  • doing more exercise
  • including more fibre in your diet

If possible, try these simple steps before using laxatives.

Read more about treating constipation.

Page last reviewed: 30/06/2014

Next review due: 30/06/2016