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Is the Long-Term Use of Senna Safe?

author image Janet Renee, MS, RD
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.
Is the Long-Term Use of Senna Safe?
Senna use as a laxitive dates back to the 9th century A.D. Photo Credit: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Lightwavemedia/Getty Images

Laxatives can help relieve occasional constipation. However, long-term use of some types of laxatives is not recommended. Senna is a medicinal plant used for its laxative capabilities. It is in a class known as stimulant laxatives. Stimulant laxatives irritate your intestinal lining, which promotes bowel movement. In the short term, this can ease constipation, however over the long-term using stimulant laxatives such as senna can cause dependence and electrolyte imbalance.

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Constipation is often uncomfortable. Your bowels are meant to regularly release waste products to keep your digestive system healthy. Bowel frequency varies from person to person, however constipation is described as having less than three bowel movements weekly. You are also considered to have constipation if you begin experiencing much less bowel movements than you normally have, so numbers vary. You may also experience hard to pass stools, or pellet-like stools, which also constitutes constipation.


Senna is available as tea and capsules. Most health care providers agree that using stimulant laxatives such as senna for up to a week is safe. Do not use senna for longer than a week without consulting your doctor, says PubMed Health. Using senna beyond the recommended time can result in permanent damage to your intestines, according to PubMed Health. Long-term use can also upset your electrolyte balance, according to Electrolytes help maintain fluid balance.

Relieving Constipation Naturally

Your digestive system relies on having enough fiber and water to keep things running smoothly. A lack of either can cause constipation, according to Exercise also helps keep your digestive system healthy. Drink plenty of fluids daily to help prevent constipation and eat fiber-rich foods, which include vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains, cereals and pasta.


Senna is not safe for children under two years old, or if you are pregnant. Even used short-term, senna can cause side effects, which include stomach cramping and diarrhea. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience blood stools or severe pain. Senna can interact with your medications and supplements, consult your doctor about possible interactions.

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