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Do Laxatives Cause Constipation in Kids?

Published May 24, 2024

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Constipation is a common concern among kids, and parents often seek remedies to alleviate their little ones' discomfort. While laxatives are commonly used to relieve constipation, there's another question that’s trending among parents: Does long-term laxative use cause constipation in kids? This blog explores the potential side effects of laxatives and what parents need to know about constipation in kids. 

Can Kids use Laxatives for Constipation? 

Laxatives are substances that help stimulate bowel movements and alleviate constipation. They work by either increasing stool bulk, softening stools, or stimulating bowel movements. While they can provide short-term relief, there's concern that prolonged or excessive use of laxatives may lead to dependency and worsen constipation over time.

Types of Laxatives and Their Effects

There are several types of laxatives, each with its own mechanism of action:

  1. Bulk-forming laxatives: These laxatives, such as psyllium and methylcellulose, work by absorbing water in the intestines, thereby increasing stool bulk and promoting bowel movements.

  2. Osmotic laxatives: Osmotic laxatives, like polyethylene glycol (PEG) and lactulose, draw water into the intestines, softening the stool and facilitating bowel movements.

  3. Stimulant laxatives: Stimulant laxatives, such as bisacodyl and senna, work by stimulating the nerves in the intestines, increasing muscle contractions and promoting bowel movements.

  4. Stool softeners: Stool softeners, like docusate sodium, help moisten and soften the stool, making it easier to pass.

The Risk of Laxative Dependency

While laxatives can provide temporary relief from constipation, there's concern that their prolonged use may lead to dependency and even worsen constipation in the long run. Research published in theJournal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition suggests that excessive use of stimulant laxatives can disrupt the natural bowel function and lead to laxative dependency in kids. Similarly, a study inPediatrics found that prolonged use of osmotic laxatives can alter bowel habits and exacerbate constipation symptoms.

Impact on Gut Microbiota

The gut microbiota, comprising trillions of microorganisms in the digestive tract, plays a crucial role in maintaining digestive health. Research inGastroenterology indicates that chronic use of laxatives, particularly stimulant laxatives, can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and negatively impact gut health. This imbalance may contribute to digestive issues, including constipation.

Psychological Effects

In addition to physical effects, the use of laxatives in kids can have psychological implications. A study inClinical Pediatrics found that kids who frequently use laxatives may develop anxiety or fear surrounding bowel movements, leading to avoidance behaviors and further exacerbating constipation.

Summary

While laxatives can provide temporary relief from constipation in kids, their prolonged or excessive use may lead to dependency and worsen constipation over time. Research suggests that stimulant laxatives, in particular, may disrupt natural bowel function and alter gut microbiota, contributing to laxative dependency and digestive issues. It's essential for parents to use laxatives cautiously and under medical supervision to avoid potential complications and address underlying causes of constipation in their kiddos.

References:

  1. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: "Laxative Use in Constipated Children" (2017)
  2. Pediatrics: "Long-term Use of Polyethylene Glycol in Constipated Children" (2005)
  3. Gastroenterology: "Impact of Laxative Use on Gut Microbiota" (2019)
Clinical Pediatrics: "Psychological Effects of Laxative Use in Children" (2014)