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Docusate: 7 things you should know

Medically reviewed by Carmen Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on May 26, 2022.

1. How it works

  • Docusate may be used to treat constipation.
  • Docusate works by lowering the surface tension of hard, dry, bowel motions (stools/poo), allowing water and fats to penetrate which makes the bowel motion softer and easier to pass. This reduces straining.
  • Docusate belongs to the class of medicines known as laxatives. Docusate is specifically a stool softener.

2. Upsides

  • Docusate softens bowel motions (stools/poo) making them easier to pass.
  • May be used for the treatment of occasional constipation.
  • Usually taken at bedtime for 2-3 days until bowel motions are normal.
  • Works within 12 to 72 hours.
  • Available as both oral tablets, oral syrup/solution, and rectal suppositories/enema.
  • Docusate can reduce straining which may be beneficial for people with hemorrhoids (piles) or an anal fissure.
  • Docusate has not been associated with any adverse effects during pregnancy, but you should talk with your doctor before taking docusate or any other medication while pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Generic docusate is available.

3. Downsides

If you are between the ages of 18 and 60, take no other medication or have no other medical conditions, side effects you are more likely to experience include:

  • Bitter taste, bloating, diarrhea, flatulence (gas), or irritation around the rectum or throat.
  • May not be suitable for some people including those with a history of bowel obstruction, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, rectal bleeding, or on a low-salt diet.
  • May not be suitable to take with some other constipation remedies, such as mineral oil (because its absorption may be increased).
  • Rarely, allergic reactions may occur (symptoms include facial swelling, difficulty breathing, and rash).
  • Not to be given to children under the age of 6 years.
  • There is not enough research into using docusate during pregnancy; however, it is occasionally used and there are no reports to suggest it may harm an unborn child. However, you should discuss the risks versus benefits with your doctor, and other laxatives, such as bulk-forming laxatives, are considered safe to use during pregnancy. It is unknown if docusate passes into breastmilk.

Note: In general, seniors or children, people with certain medical conditions (such as liver or kidney problems, heart disease, diabetes, seizures) or people who take other medications are more at risk of developing a wider range of side effects. View complete list of side effects

4. Bottom Line

Docusate is a stool softener that is used to treat constipation. It works by lowering the surface tension of hard, dry, bowel motions, allowing water and fats to penetrate which makes the bowel motion softer and easier to pass. Docusate generally works within 12 to 72 hours.

5. Tips

  • May be taken with or without food.
  • Do not crush, chew, or break open a docusate capsule or tablet. Measure liquid docusate with a properly calibrated measure or syringe, do not use a kitchen teaspoon. The liquid may be mixed with milk, fruit juice, or infant formula and drunk straight away.
  • Take docusate capsules with a full glass of water, usually at bedtime. Take extra fluids throughout the day to help the effectiveness of docusate. Water also helps to relieve constipation.
  • The rectal form of docusate should only be inserted in your rectum; it is not for use by mouth. Wash your hands and make sure your bowels and bladder are empty before you insert the enema. Lie on your left side with your knees bent and gently insert the tip of the enema into your rectum. Squeeze the tube and empty the entire contents into your rectum, try and hold the contents in for as long as possible or until you have a bowel movement.
  • Do not take more docusate than recommended or take for longer than seven days.
  • Talk to your doctor before taking if you have any stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting, or have experienced a sudden change in bowel motions that has persisted for longer than two weeks.
  • Talk to your doctor if you experience any rectal bleeding, or if you fail to have a bowel movement after taking docusate for several days. A bowel movement usually occurs within one to three days of taking docusate.
  • If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, do not use docusate until you have spoken with your doctor.
  • Store docusate away from heat, moisture, and light (do not store in the bathroom). Keep out of reach of children and pets. Do not give to children under 6 years of age unless directed by a doctor.
  • Do not use during pregnancy or breastfeeding unless you have discussed taking it with a doctor first. Bulk-forming laxatives may be safer.

6. Response and effectiveness

  • Docusate capsules take between 12 and 72 hours to work.

7. Interactions

Medicines that interact with docusate may either decrease its effect, affect how long it works for, increase side effects, or have less of an effect when taken with docusate. An interaction between two medications does not always mean that you must stop taking one of the medications; however, sometimes it does. Speak to your doctor about how drug interactions should be managed.

Common medications that may interact with docusate include:

  • lactulose
  • linaclotide
  • mineral oil
  • phenolphthalein.

Note that this list is not all-inclusive and includes only common medications that may interact with docusate. You should refer to the prescribing information for docusate for a complete list of interactions.


Further information

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use docusate only for the indication prescribed.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Copyright 1996-2023 Revision date: May 25, 2022.