Harvard Health Letter

By the way, doctor: Is it okay to take a stool softener long-term?

Q. I have been taking a stool softener daily for two months. It's helped with my constipation. Are there any risks to taking a stool softener on a long-term basis?

A. The risk of problems from long-term use of stool softeners such as docusate sodium (Colace, Regulax SS, other brands) really isn't the issue. The question is whether they do much good. Studies have cast doubt on the effectiveness of preparations taken expressly for stool softening.

Besides, there are plenty of other ways to accomplish the same thing. The difference between a hard stool and a soft one is its water content. Increasing your fiber intake can help soften stool because fiber pulls water into the intestine. Many of us get only a small fraction of the 20 to 35 grams of fiber we're supposed to eat each day. Fruit, vegetables, and whole grains are good sources. Fiber can produce abdominal cramps, bloating, and flatulence, so it's best to increase your intake nice and gradually.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »