What Are The Side Effects and Health Risks Associated With Laxative Abuse?

Laxative abuse is a common practice among people struggling with eating disorders that involve purging, such as bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa. In these cases, laxatives are often used straight after a meal or binging episode, with the individual in question believing that the laxatives will quickly rid their body of calories before any food is digested. Unsurprisingly, laxative abuse can lead to serious dehydration and digestive issues.

What Are Laxatives?

Laxatives are a type of medication that is used to help loosen stools and encourage bowel movement. Laxatives are prescribed to treat symptoms of constipation. There are a number of different types of laxatives, however, the three most common are:

  • Bulk Forming Agents: These include fibrous foods or hydrophilic agents in pharmacy products that add bulk and water to the stool to make it more readily passable.
  • Emollient Agents: Also known as stool softeners, these laxatives enable water and additional fats to be incorporated into the stool, thereby making it easier to pass.
  • Lubricant Laxatives: These work by coating your stools with lipids as they pass through the colon.

Laxatives can be a beneficial form of treatment for individuals suffering from chronic constipation. However, consistent use of laxatives can have long-lasting implications on digestive health and overall wellbeing.

The most common misconception among people who misuse laxatives is that taking laxatives will inhibit any calories from being absorbed after a binging episode. However, this is not the case. In reality, laxatives do not begin their work until long after any calories have been absorbed in the small intestine. When laxatives act on the large intestine to empty the colon, the waste is predominantly water, electrolytes, and indigestible fiber – this means that any weight loss seen following a purge is simply water weight, something that will return when you rehydrate.

Symptoms of Laxative Abuse

There are a number of signs or symptoms that may indicate that you, or someone you know, is abusing laxatives. Some of these signs include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal cramping or cramping muscles
  • Faintness or feelings of lightheadedness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Experiencing bouts of chronic constipation or diarrhea
  • Using the bathroom for long periods of time
  • Gastrointestinal irregularities, such as IBS, gas or bloating
  • Other eating disorder indicators, such as binge eating, excessive exercising, or obsessive calorie counting

Risks Associated with Laxative Abuse

The most common risks associated with laxative abuse are dehydration and low electrolyte levels. Left untreated, laxative-related dehydration can cause dizziness, fatigue, blurry vision, and eventually kidney failure. Long-term laxative abuse may also permanently impair the function of other vital organs in the digestive tract.

If you or someone you know has a problem with laxative abuse, it is important that you contact a counselor or medical professional immediately.

Sources: National Eating Disorders, Addiction Hope, Eating Disorder Hope
Photo: Pixabay

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