Stool Softener Side Effects

Constipation can cause the stool in the colon and rectum to become dry and hard, making it uncomfortable to have a bowel movement. Stool softeners can be used to soften the stool and make it easier to pass out of the digestive tract. However, these drugs have several side effects that can cause discomfort and may make it necessary to find alternate treatment options.

A woman with an upset stomach is laying on her bed. Credit: gmast3r/iStock/Getty Images

Stomach Cramps

When the colon draws too much water out of the stool, it leads to hard, dry stool that can cause constipation. While stool softeners do not have a laxative effect on the digestive system, their ingredients soften the stool and make it easier to pass. Some people may experience stomach or intestinal cramps as a result of using stool softeners. Drinking 6 to 8 glasses of water on each day that a stool softener is used can help prevent these cramps from occurring.

Throat Irritation

Some stool softeners are available in liquid form so that people who have difficulty swallowing pills can experience the benefits of taking a stool softener. The ingredients in the liquid form of stool softeners can cause throat irritation. The taste of the stool softener may also bother some users. Mix each serving of the stool softener powder with juice to avoid this unpleasant taste.

Nausea & Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are known stool softener side effects and may be caused by both liquid and pill forms of this type of drug. Because severe vomiting can lead to dehydration and other serious medical conditions, it should be reported to a doctor. An alternate medication may be prescribed.

Allergic Reaction

An allergic reaction to the ingredients in stool softeners is not common, but it is possible. Allergic reactions can cause hives, skin rashes and swelling of the lips, hands and tongue. Seek immediate medical treatment if any signs of an allergic reaction occur. A severe allergy may require the administration of life-saving drugs.


Stool softeners may cause diarrhea, especially if the recommended dosage is exceeded. When the stool becomes too soft, bowel movements may become very loose or watery. If diarrhea occurs, drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. If it persists, consult a physician for treatment.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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