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Many people think that they are constipated if they don't pass their bowels everyday and they think that the toxins building inside of them will eventually make them ill. However, the truth is that regularity and comfort of bowel action are much more important than how many times you go. About 10 to 20 per cent of adults consider themselves to be constipated and take laxatives to encourage more regular bowel movement.

There are five main types of laxative, but some preparations act in more than one way.

Bulk Forming Laxatives
These absorb water to increase the volume of faeces. They are only used if someone cannot include more fibre into their diet.

Stimulant Laxatives
These trigger bowel contractions so the bulk passes along the intestines more quickly and less water is absorbed.

Osmotic Laxatives
These help prevent the bowel from absorbing water so that the bulk volume increases. They are often used before surgery since they act quickly in small doses.

Softeners
These act as detergents, moistening and breaking up the faeces.

Lubricant Laxatives
These aid the passage of the faeces through the bowel. They are usually taken with other laxatives.

Most laxatives are taken orally, but if they are not effective your GP can prescribe suppositories which stimulate the bowel via the rectum. Taking too many laxatives causes diarrhoea and if you take them too often you may feel constipated. You can become dependent on laxatives to make your bowels work normally so stop taking them when you are no longer constipated. Children should not use laxatives unless they are advised to by their GP. Laxatives are powerful drugs and should not be used to aid weight loss.