Discover the best laxatives to soothe constipation and keep you and your family regular as clockwork
Constipation is one of those conditions nearly everyone experiences at some point in their lives but no-one likes to talk about. Thankfully, though, if you choose the best laxative for the problem at hand, you can treat the issue quickly, discreetly and safely. Laxatives are widely available and affordable, and if you don’t like the idea of chucking a packet of Senokot in your supermarket trolley, pharmacy-only laxatives can be bought online without a prescription. Relief all round!
If you’re going to the toilet less often than is normal for you (which obviously varies between people) and passing hard stools when you go, then you’re officially constipated. Around one in seven UK adults and one in three children suffer at any one time, according to NHS Inform. Constipation can be caused by not drinking enough water, lack of fibre (common on low-carb diets), and medications including painkillers.
Read on and we’ll explain more about how the different types of laxative can get things moving along, or you can scroll down the page to see which laxatives we recommend for different situations.
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How to choose the best laxative for you
What are the different types of laxative?
Laxatives fall into five main categories, each working in a slightly different way.
Bulk-forming laxatives such as Fybogel (active ingredient: ispaghula husk) are basically concentrated dietary fibre. These natural laxatives bulk up the waste inside your bowel, stimulating the muscles to get moving. They’re not the fastest fix, taking two or three days to work, but they’re a good place to start because they’re relatively gentle on your system. They’re GSL (General Sale List) products, so you can buy them off the shelf in supermarkets and they’re widely available online.
Stimulant laxatives such as Senokot (made from senna pods) and Dulcolax (active ingredient: bisacodyl) are the fastest-working oral laxatives, with overnight results. They stimulate the muscles lining your gut, helping to move things along. They can cause tummy pain, so make sure not to exceed the recommended dose or you’ll be in for an unpleasant night, and prolonged use is not advised because your gut’s muscles can grow dependent on them. Available widely, including from Amazon.
Suppositories containing glycerol or bisacodyl are the fastest workers in the laxative world. They’re a type of stimulant laxative lozenge that you put inside your back passage to encourage the muscles to contract. You’ll need to go (like, really need to go) about 20 minutes after inserting a suppository, so take care with your timing!
Osmotic laxatives, such as lactulose liquid, draw water from the rest of your body and redirect it to your bowel, softening your blockage. They take two or more days to work. Some chemists, such as Lloyds Pharmacy, sell osmotic laxatives online, but you’ll need to fill in a brief pharmacist’s questionnaire before buying. If your child is suffering from constipation, this is the best kind of laxative to try.
Stool-softener laxatives are similar to osmotic laxatives, letting water into your gut to soften what’s inside and make it easier to pass. They include Dulcoease (docusate sodium) capsules, and they’re widely available online.
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Which type of laxative is best for me?
The NHS recommends starting with a bulk-forming laxative. These laxatives are made from natural fibre, and do a really effective job of getting your gut moving if your diet is low on fruit and veg. You’ll need to drink plenty of water, too.
If that doesn’t help, then try a stool-softening or osmotic laxative such as Dulcoease. Next, try a stimulant laxative such as Senokot, or a suppository. Speak to a GP or pharmacist if you’re unsure which laxative to use.
Some people should avoid laxatives completely. Avoid giving stimulant and bulk-forming laxatives to children (unless advised by a doctor). People with certain conditions such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis should avoid laxatives completely. The charity Guts UK has a great fact sheet here.
The best laxatives you can buy in 2023
1. DulcoEase Soft Gel Capsules: Best gentle laxative capsules to take when travelling
Price: £4.30 | Buy now from Boots
Travelling can play havoc with your regularity, especially when planes, time zones and medication are involved. The best laxative to pack in your luggage is a gentle stool-softening capsule such as DulcoEase. It won’t give you tummy cramps (like a stimulant laxative might) or spill (as a liquid or syrup might) or require making up with water (like many fibre-bulking laxatives). Instead, it works gently but effectively to soften up the contents of your gut by increasing their absorption of fluids, working over a couple of days to make it much easier to go to the loo.
The gentle nature of DulcoEase also makes it suitable for long-term use, and its stool-softening strategy is ideal for reducing the pain of haemorrhoids or anal fissures, and helping those conditions to clear up.
Key specs – Size: 30 capsules; Laxative type: Stool softener; Active ingredient: Docusate sodium, 100mg per capsule
2. Fybogel Orange Natural Fibre Drink (3-pack): Best natural laxative if you don’t get enough fibre
Price: £17 | Buy now from Amazon
Lack of fibre is a chief cause of bowel irregularity, so constipation can be a real problem when you’re trying to follow a low-carb high-protein diet (or you just don’t like fruit and veg very much!). Rather than try to down six lettuces a night, mix up a Fybogel drink instead. Fybogel Orange is made from ispaghula husk, a natural gluten-free concentrated fibre that helps your digestive system work more efficiently. It’s really effective but also gentle, relieving constipation without discomfort or the need to suddenly go at inconvenient moments.
Key specs – Size: x90 (3 boxes of 30 sachets); Laxative type: Bulk-forming; Active ingredient: Ispaghula husk
3. Senokot Constipation Relief Syrup: Best liquid laxative for overnight relief
Price: £9.99 | Buy now from Amazon
If you’ve tried a bulk-forming laxative such as Fybogel or a gentle stool-softener such as DulcoEase but neither did the trick, then Senokot’s bowel-stimulating power is the next strategy to try. Buyers report that this sweet liquid format is more effective than Senokot tablets, perhaps because it’s more easily absorbed by the body. The syrup, which is sweetened with sugar substitute maltitol, is also rather more palatable than the earthy-tasting tablets (also on Amazon).
Stimulant laxatives like Senokot don’t work for everyone, and their main downside is the nasty abdominal pain that comes from taking too much, perhaps when you assumed it wasn’t working. But if you’ve had good results with senna laxatives before, then this is the product to go for.
Key specs – Size: 150ml; Laxative type: Stimulant; Active ingredient: Sennosides (senna), 7.5mg per 5ml teaspoon
4. Care Glycerin Suppositories (2 packs): Best laxative suppository for really fast relief
Price: £5.59 | Buy now from Amazon
When you need to get that blockage cleared fast, then a stimulant suppository is the laxative you need. Insert one of these glycerin suppositories just inside your back passage, and it will take between 10 and 30 minutes to get you going. Not only is it fast, but it also avoids the need to take a medication that may not agree with your stomach.
Amazon buyers rate these Care suppositories very highly, but point out that the branding sometimes varies on the box you receive. The actual suppositories in the packet are the same generic product.
Key specs – Size: x24 (2 boxes of 12 4g suppositories); Laxative type: Stimulant suppository; Active ingredient: Glycerol
5. LloydsPharmacy Lactulose: Best laxative to give to children
Price: £5.99 | Buy now from Lloyds Pharmacy
Lactulose syrup is one of the few types of laxatives suitable for children, who are even more likely to suffer from constipation than adults. It works by drawing water into the bowel to make the poo softer and much easier to pass, so there’s a smaller risk of tummy ache than with gut-bulking and stimulating laxatives. It’s easy to swallow, and a really good treatment for mild to moderate constipation.
Despite being quite a gentle laxative, lactulose is a pharmacy-only product, which some stores (such as Boots) don’t let you buy online. Lloyds Pharmacy does sell it online, but you’ll need to answer a few questions before you can check out.
Key specs – Size: 100ml; Laxative type: Osmotic; Active ingredient: Lactulose, 3.35mg per 5ml teaspoon
6. Galpharm Constipation Relief (3-pack): Best-value laxative tablets for overnight relief
Price: £5.29 | Buy now from Amazon
Bisacodyl is a stimulant laxative, similar to senna, although some people respond to one and not to the other (it’s a case of trying it and seeing how you go, or possibly how you don’t go). If it works for you, you’ll get speedy overnight relief in around 8-10 hours. But as with all stimulant laxatives, make sure not to take too much, or you could suffer tummy pains. The best-known bisacodyl laxative is Dulcolax, but these generic tablets work out cheaper and contain the same amount of active ingredient (5mg per tablet).
Key specs – Size: x60 (3 boxes of 20 tablets); Laxative type: Stimulant; Active ingredient: Bisacodyl, 5mg per tablet