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Laxatives are foods, compounds and medications able to induce bowel movement and loosen the stool. They are most commonly prescribed to people suffering from constipation. However, today many individuals use laxatives in other purposes which is the main problem of laxative abuse.

Laxative abuse occurs when a person is not constipated but takes these substances in order to get rid of unwanted calories and lose weight. It is no wonder that laxative abuse is closely related to certain eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia or binge eating. Laxative abuse is considered a serious problem and may have quite detrimental effects to the entire body.

Medical Complications Associated with Laxative Abuse

Human body requires proper amount of certain minerals (electrolytes). Laxatives may interfere with the balance of several electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. Since these minerals are essential for proper function of different organs and organ systems such as nerves, muscles, colon and heart, excess or lack of them in the organism caused by prolonged intake of laxatives leads to serious changes of functions of the previously mentioned organs. 

Furthermore, laxatives also cause significant loss of fluid. In case one does not drink a sufficient amount of water and uses too much laxatives or these substances are used for a longer period of time the risk of dehydration increases.

Some people may develop laxative dependency. Namely, uncontrollable usage of laxatives can eventually cause the loss of physiological mechanism of defecation. In such case the person may only defecate if he/she continues taking laxatives.

Withdrawal from Laxative Abuse

It may be quite complicated to stop taking laxatives particularly if one has already developed dependency and is not able to defecate without laxatives. The body's reaction once laxatives are discontinued is individual. In majority of cases laxative withdrawal is accompanied by fluid retention and constipation. Some people may additionally complain about bloating and there may be a temporary weight gain (due to fluid retention). These uncomfortable symptoms generally last from 1-3 weeks.

Treatment for Laxative Abuse

The goal of this treatment is not only to help people stop using laxatives uncontrollably but also to treat all the underlying conditions that have led to laxative abuse. Everyone can recover from laxative abuse but many people will start using laxatives again. This particularly refers to patients suffering from certain eating disorders. They require additional treatment of the primary condition (the condition that caused laxative abuse). Constipation caused by prolonged laxative abuse may be brought under control with proper diet prescribed by a well-experienced dietitian.

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