Constipation is a common problem. If you have trouble passing hard stool or if your bowel movements only produce small dry feces, you are constipated. The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) estimates that "more than 4 million Americans have frequent constipation." Over-the-counter laxatives are the most common treatment used to relieve constipation. A stool softener is a gentle type of laxative that is beneficial in treating constipation. Stool softeners work by causing the body to draw water into the intestines, where it is absorbed by fecal matter, making the feces soft and easier to pass through the intestines. Because stool softeners are gentle-acting, you will not experience the sudden emergency urges to relieve your bowels that are commonly felt with harsher laxatives.
Drink eight 8-oz. glasses of water or fruit juice, or a combination of both, throughout the day, on the day that you take a stool softener. For extra laxative effects, make one of your glasses of daily fluids a glass of prune juice.
Eat high fiber foods, such as whole grains breads and rice, fruits and vegetables. High fiber foods add bulk to fecal matter and attract water to fecal matter, making it easier for feces to pass through the intestines.
Take a stool softener at night, before bedtime, with an 8-oz. glass of water or juice. Refer to the stool softener package for dosage directions. You can count the glass of water or juice that you drink with your stool softener as part of your eight glasses of fluids a day.
Continue drinking eight glasses of fluids a day, eating a fiber rich diet and taking a nightly stool softener everyday, for up to one week, or until you have a successful bowel movement. According to Medline Plus, a service of the National Institutes of Health, stool softeners typically take effect within one to three days of treatment.