Are Too Many Laxatives Harming Your Health?

At some point, nearly everyone suffers from constipation, a condition in which a person has difficult or infrequent bowel movements. As a result, many people often turn to laxatives to help resolve the problem. And while taking an occasional laxative isn't harmful, overuse of laxatives, suppositories, and enemas-using them longer than one week unless prescribed by your doctor-can actually inhibit normal contractions in the bowel and make the problem worse. Plus, most of the time it isn't necessary to take a laxative to relieve constipation as the problem usually goes away on its own.

Some people worry if they don't have a bowel movement every day. But according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, there is no right number of daily or weekly bowel movements. Being regular is different for each person. For example, it's perfectly normal for some to have a bowel movement twice a day, while for others, having a bowel movement three times a week is considered normal.

To determine if you have a constipation problem, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have fewer than three bowel movements a week?
  • Do I usually have a difficult time passing stools?
  • Are my stools often lumpy or hard?
  • Do I have a feeling of being blocked or of not having fully emptied my bowels?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you may have a constipation problem.

While it may not always be easy to tell exactly what's causing your constipation problem, oftentimes diet is the culprit. For example, eating lots of high-fat meats, dairy products, and eggs or rich desserts and sugary sweets can trigger constipation. Not getting enough fluids can also curtail bowel movements. Here's how to stay regular:

  • Eat high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • Drink at least three 12-ounce glasses of water each day
  • Get enough exercise every day

When to See Your Doctor

If your constipation is chronic and you have any of the following symptoms, see your doctor:

  • There is blood in your stool
  • You're having serious stomach pains
  • You're losing weight without trying
  • Increasing the amount of fiber in your diet and upping your exercise program aren't working
  • You have a sudden change in your bowel habits that has gone on for two weeks or longer