Laxatives are medicines that induce bowel movements or soften or loosen up the stool. They may also be called cathartics or purgatives. They are used to treat constipation or to empty the bowel of fecal matter before colonoscopy or surgery.
Most laxatives work by either stimulating the bowel (stimulants), softening the stool (stool softeners), increasing the stool bulk or encouraging the stool to draw in more water (bulking agents), lubricating the stool to allow and easier passage out of the colon (lubricants), or by promoting the influx of water into the bowel (hyperosmotics).
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