There are several types of laxatives that differ in how quickly they start working, how helpful they are in different situations, their taste and cost and possible side effects. Some of them are available from your pharmacy, and others on prescription from your doctor. The four main groups of laxatives are:
- bulk-forming laxatives (or fibre supplements)
- stimulant laxatives that act on the bowel's nervous system to get the bowel moving
- osmotic laxatives that draw water into the bowel
- stool or poo softeners.
More-detailed information about these four types of laxatives, including common brand names, is provided in the table at the bottom of this page.
There are different forms of laxatives. Some can be taken by mouth; others such as an enema inserted in the bottom.
- Tablets, capsules, syrups, drops and powders are taken by mouth, and depending on the type of laxative, can take hours or days to work.
- Rectal laxatives (enemas or suppositories) are inserted into the rectum (bottom). These are usually effective within minutes to an hour and are mainly used as a last resort to treat severe constipation.