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Last reviewed dd mmm yyyy. Last edited dd mmm yyyy

Authoring team

The side-effects of laxatives include:

  • in the presence of intestinal obstruction laxative use may cause perforation

  • the abuse of laxatives may cause:
    • melanosis coli seen on sigmoidoscopy
    • colonic atony (cathartic colon) may result and cause constipation and lead to more laxative abuse
      • cathartic colon syndrome is a serious entity, involving loss of normal colonic peristalsis because of long-term habituation to stimulant laxatives. The result is a dilated, atonic colon, which is incapable of propagating faecal material, typically defined on the basis of radiologic findings (1)
        • changes arise from inflammation of the mucosa, alterations in muscular layers of the colon, and degeneration of the myenteric and Auerbach's nerve plexi caused by a direct toxic effect from the stimulant laxative

  • hypersensitivity reactions - uncommon

  • liquid paraffin:
    • should not be used
    • causes leakage of parafin around stool resulting in incontinence
    • parafinomas occur in the bowel wall
    • there may be leaching of fat soluble vitamins


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