Constipation is an uncomfortable, sometimes painful, condition. There are many prescription and over-the-counter laxatives available to treat constipation. One of these options is mineral oil.

Mineral oil is a lubricant laxative. It has been used for many years to make it easier to have a bowel movement. Although mineral oil can be safe and effective for many people, there are certain precautions that you should take. You should understand the potential side effects before you use this home remedy.

Constipation

Constipation refers to the slow movement of stools through your bowels. Stools can become dry and hard. This makes them difficult to pass.

If you’re constipated, it may mean that you have infrequent bowel movements. This means having less than three bowel movements per week. Constipation may also occur if you have trouble passing stools for days or weeks.

Most people have at least occasional periods of constipation. Some people have it on a regular basis.

What are the risk factors for constipation?

The older you get, the more you’re at risk for constipation. Women tend to be more likely than men to develop constipation. This is at least partly because constipation commonly occurs during pregnancy.

Additional risk factors for constipation include:

  • being dehydrated
  • not getting enough fiber in your diet
  • having thyroid disease, which is more common in women
  • taking certain narcotic drugs
  • taking certain sedatives
  • taking certain medications to lower your blood pressure
  • having medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis
  • having weakened pelvic muscles, or ones that no longer relax and constrict

Using mineral oil for constipation

Mineral oil use as a laxative has been around for many years, and people in many cultures use it. The oil coats the stool and inside of the bowel with moisture. This helps keep the stool from drying out.

You can buy mineral oil laxatives at most drug stores. You can find it in liquid, oral form or as an enema. You can drink the plain liquid or mix it with water or another drink. A mineral oil enema is usually available in a squeezable tube. This allows you to deliver the oil directly into your rectum.

Because mineral oil takes about eight hours to work, you should consider taking it right before bedtime. This may limit or reduce your chance of waking up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.

You should avoid taking it with meals because mineral oil can interfere with your body’s absorption of several important nutrients. This is also why pregnant women should avoid using mineral oil to treat constipation.

Don’t take mineral oil within two hours of taking another medication because it can interfere with the other medication’s effectiveness.

Read more: 5 Safe remedies for constipation in pregnancy »

Dosage

The laxative is sold as plain mineral oil and as a mineral oil emulsion, which means the oil has been mixed with another liquid. Regardless of which type of mineral oil laxative you buy, be sure to follow the instructions carefully.

Oral doses range from 15 to 30 milliliters (ml) of mineral oil for children under 6. These numbers can vary depending on the product. Some doctors say children under the age of 6 shouldn’t take mineral oil. If you have questions, check with your pediatrician about any changes in guidelines or recommendations for mineral oil as a laxative.

Adults can take 15 to 45 ml of mineral oil orally. These numbers will vary depending on the product. Ask your doctor about what dose is appropriate for your age.

You should only use this laxatives in the short term. If you have success using it and you have persistent constipation problems, your doctor may recommend careful use. However you should avoid using them for an extended period.

Talk to your doctor if you don’t notice any improvement after a week of using this laxative.

Possible side effects

Be careful when giving mineral oil to your child. If a child inhales it, it can result in respiratory difficulty. It may also result in pneumonia. If you or your child develops a cough or other respiratory problems after starting mineral oil, tell your doctor.

Because you can’t digest mineral oil, some may leak out the rectum. This can make a mess and irritate the rectum. Taking smaller doses may help solve this problem.

Allergies to mineral oil are unusual. If you have problems with itching, swelling, or breathing trouble, you should seek immediate medical attention.

The takeaway

A mineral oil laxative should work after the first dose. If it doesn’t, check the product’s label or discuss your options with your doctor. It may take a few days for you to get relief. If you don’t get relief after a week, you may need to try a different type of laxative.

If you have success with mineral oil, be careful not to overdo it. It’s possible to use a laxative so much that you eventually have trouble having a bowel movement without using a laxative.

How to prevent constipation

Certain lifestyle choices can help you avoid this difficult digestive problem. Make sure your diet contains plenty of roughage, such as fruit, whole grains, and green, leafy vegetables.

Staying hydrated is also important. You should drink six to eight glasses of water each day unless your doctor says otherwise. Exercising every day can help improve your digestion and your overall physical health.

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