What is the difference between stool softeners and stimulant laxatives?

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

Stool softeners and stimulant laxatives differ in how they function. Stool softeners prevent or treat constipation by making the stools less hard. They do not directly cause bowel movements. Because of this, most stool softeners take one to three days to be effective. By contrast, stimulant laxatives, such as Cascara, bisacodyl, and castor oil, act by directly producing bowel movements. They do so by stimulating the muscles in the intestines to contract. The effects of stimulant laxatives are usually seen within two to 10 hours, although senna and cascara compounds may take up to 24 hours to work.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.