If you suffer from infrequent bowel movements or difficult to pass stools, you are not alone. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) estimates that 42 million Americans have frequent constipation. Stool softeners, a commonly used laxative which helps mix fluids into intestinal contents to soften the stool, may help prevent or relieve constipation.
However, stool softeners such as docusate sodium are typically not a doctor's first recommendation to manage ongoing constipation, since bulk-forming laxatives such as psyllium (Metamucil) or bran work better, according to a July-August 2011 article in "Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine." But stool softeners may be effective for preventing or treating mild constipation, and often have fewer side effects. Doctors may recommend stool softeners when it's important to avoid straining with bowel movements, which is why they are commonly prescribed after surgery or after childbirth. Taking stool softeners as directed is important to help them work as expected .
Read the instructions on the package, so you understand the recommended daily dose and other helpful information. Take only the dose outlined on the label, as taking too much laxatives can cause side effects such as diarrhea, cramping, gas, bloating or diarrhea.
Take the stool softener at bedtime with a full glass of water. It may take a few days for the softer stool to make its way through your intestines, so be patient. You may need to take this capsule or tablet for up to a week to adequately soften the stool.
Help your stool softener work by drinking enough liquids -- preferably several cups of water or other fluids per day. Also eat high fiber foods, such as whole grain bread, bran cereal, beans, whole fruits and vegetables. High fiber foods add bulk and attract water to fecal matter, making stools softer and easier to pass through the intestines.