Stool Softeners Compared to Laxatives

Stool softeners are a type of laxative that help relieve constipation. While stool softeners for adults are a laxative, not all laxatives are stool softeners. The term laxative refers to a wide range of substances, including stool softeners. Each type of laxative works differently for constipation relief.

Determining which stool softeners is most effective for you can be confusing, and it’s important to be informed about the different types of stool softeners, natural stool softeners, and dietary/lifestyle changes you can make for healthy bowel movement management.

Before taking any constipation medication it’s important to consult with a physician.

young woman contemplating stool softeners

Over-the-Counter & Natural Stool Softeners & Laxatives

OTC Stool Softeners & Laxatives

Common over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives include both oral and rectal dosing. Some laxatives can work in as little as a few minutes while others might take hours (or days) to have an effect. It is important to read the instructions and be aware of potential side effects of different laxative products. Only take one type of laxative at a time and talk to your doctor if you experience ongoing constipation.

Below are some common OTC options:

  • Bulk Forming Laxatives, that form a watery gel to add body and lubrication to the stool
  • Lubricant Laxatives, that use an oily coating to help move stool through the system
  • Osmotic Laxatives, that draw water into the intestines from surrounding tissues
  • Stimulant Laxatives, that stimulate the intestines into having a bowel movement

Stool softeners for adult constipation work by loosening stools and/or inducing a bowel movement. Stool softeners are gentle medications with a relatively mild effect. They soften the stool, making it easier to pass, often without straining. Following lifestyle changes (see below), stool softeners are often the first method used for preventing and addressing short-term constipation.

Oral stool softeners come in capsule, liquid and tablet forms. The primary active ingredient is Docusate. These dose forms help soften the stool and trigger the urge for a bowel movement in 12 to 72 hours. Rectal stool softeners act directly in the lower bowel and can provide relief in as little as 2 – 15 minutes.

Natural Stool Softeners for Adults

While medication can be effective in easing constipation, it’s important to make necessary dietary and lifestyle changes as a first step for constipation relief. For example, some foods act as natural stool softeners, while others have the opposite effect.

Foods that can make constipation worse, and should be avoided if experiencing constipation, include pastries, puddings, sugar, candy, cake and cheese.

Proper hydration and fiber intake (along with daily exercise and a regular bowel routine) help improve and avoid constipation.

healthy high fiber foods

Hydration & High Fiber Diet to Naturally Support Digestive Health

Hydration for Consistent Bowel Movements

Staying hydrated is one of the best ways to naturally soften stool. Lack of adequate hydration is one of the most common contributors to constipation, so drinking non-diuretic fluids is essential to relieve constipation symptoms. Hydration moistens and softens stool and makes it easier to pass.

Whether or not you are thirsty is not always the best indicator of whether you are dehydrated, so drinking 11-15 cups of water per day is important. The amount of hydration you need depends on exercise, climate, age, gender, and medications taken, so check with a physician if you are unsure of what is right for you.

Avoid diuretic fluids like caffeine and alcohol and monitor your daily intake of sodium to help prevent dehydration.

glasses of water to communicate staying hydrated for bowel health

A High Fiber Diet Naturally Supports Digestive Health

Daily fiber intake helps prevent and relieve constipation by retaining water in the intestine, making stool easier to pass. Dietary fiber is found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and unlike fats, proteins, and carbohydrates isn’t absorbed into the body so it increases the size and weight of stool and promotes regular bowel movements.

Food high in fiber include:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Peas
  • Green beans
  • Apples
  • Prunes

Reaching for vegetables, nuts, and seeds for snacks instead of chips or other junk food is one way to incorporate more fiber into your diet. Having a fiber-rich breakfast with bran or whole grains is a good way to jump start your day and your bowel!

Natural Stool Softener Foods to Stop Straining with Bowel Movements

From Docusol®

“When you are constipated, finding relief is the first thing on your mind. Laxatives can help evacuate the bowel and clear constipation. There are a lot of different products available and understanding which one is right for you can be confusing and overwhelming.”


Stool Softeners & Laxatives FAQ

Stool softeners are a type of laxative that help relieve constipation. While stool softeners are a laxative, not all laxatives are stool softeners. The term laxative refers to a wide range of substances, including stool softeners.

The DocuSol® and DocuSol® Plus Advantage

DocuSol® mini-enema

The DocuSol® mini-enema delivers 283mg of docusate sodium and functions as a stool softener hyper-osmotic laxative by drawing water into the bowel from surrounding body tissues, softening the stool and promoting a bowel movement.

DocuSol® Plus Advantage

DocuSol® Plus has the same active ingredients but contains an additional 20mg of benzocaine, assisting in the anesthetization of the rectum and lower bowel. The formulation was developed for patients who experience hemorrhoids, fissures, or painful bowel movements

DocuSol® and DocuSol® Plus are popular choices due to the fast, predictable results (typically in 2-15 minutes), non-irritating formula, and flexible tip for ease of use.

Disclaimer: The material contained is for reference purposes only. Alliance Labs, LLC and Summit Pharmaceuticals do not assume responsibility for patient care. Consult a physician prior to use. Copyright 2020 Summit Pharmaceuticals and Alliance Labs, LLC.