Milk of magnesia safe


Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia

How does this medication work? What will it do for me?

Magnesium hydroxide belongs to two groups of medications: laxatives and antacids. It is used to relieve occasional constipation and also to relieve symptoms caused by heartburn, upset stomach, or indigestion.

For constipation, magnesium hydroxide works by increasing the water content and volume of stool, which helps produce a bowel movement. For heartburn, it works by neutralizing stomach acid.

This medication may be available under multiple brand names and/or in several different forms. Any specific brand name of this medication may not be available in all of the forms or approved for all of the conditions discussed here. As well, some forms of this medication may not be used for all of the conditions discussed here.

Your doctor may have suggested this medication for conditions other than those listed in these drug information articles. If you have not discussed this with your doctor or are not sure why you are taking this medication, speak to your doctor.

Do not give this medication to anyone else, even if they have the same symptoms as you do. It can be harmful for people to take this medication if their doctor or pharmacist has not recommended it.

What form(s) does this medication come in?

Each chewable tablet contains 311 mg of magnesium hydroxide. Nonmedicinal ingredients: dextrates, magnesium stearate, peppermint oil, silicon dioxide, starch, sucrose, and maltodextrin.

Each mL of suspension contains 80 mg of magnesium hydroxide. Nonmedicinal ingredients: carboxymethylcellulose, cherry flavour (cherry only), citric acid, D&C Red No. 28 (cherry only), ethanol, glycerin, menthol, microcrystalline cellulose, mineral oil, peppermint flavouring (mint only), sodium saccharin, sodium citrate, sodium hypochlorite, sucrose, water, and xanthan gum.

How should I use this medication?

For constipation, the recommended daily dose is 6 to 8 chewable tablets, or 30 mL to 60 mL of oral suspension.

  • For children aged 6 to 11 years old, the usual dose is 3 to 6 chewable tablets, or 15 mL to 30 mL of oral suspension per day.
  • For children 2 to 5 years of age, the usual dose is 1 to 3 chewable tablets, or 5 mL to 15 mL of oral suspension per day.
  • The dose of magnesium hydroxide for children under 2 years of age is based on weight. Talk to your doctor before giving this medication to children under 2 years of age.

For heartburn, the recommended dose for adults is 2 to 4 chewable tablets, or 5 mL to 15 mL of oral suspension up to 4 times a day. For children, the daily dose is the same as that for constipation, however the dose may be divided and given up to 4 times daily (e.g., a 6-year old may take 2 chewable tablets 3 times a day for a total of 6 tablets daily).

Shake the suspension well before taking it. Use an oral syringe or measuring spoon to measure each dose of the liquid, as it gives a more accurate measurement than household teaspoons.

Many things can affect the dose of medication that a person needs, such as body weight, other medical conditions, and other medications. If your doctor or pharmacist has recommended a dose different from the ones above, do not change the way that you are taking the medication without consulting your doctor.

It is important to take this medication exactly as recommended by your doctor or pharmacist.

Store this medication at room temperature and keep it out of the reach of children.

Do not dispose of medications in wastewater (e.g. down the sink or in the toilet) or in household garbage. Ask your pharmacist how to dispose of medications that are no longer needed or have expired.

Who should NOT take this medication?

Do not take magnesium hydroxide if you:

  • are allergic to magnesium hydroxide or any ingredients of the medication
  • have abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
  • have heart block
  • have seriously reduced kidney function

What side effects are possible with this medication?

Many medications can cause side effects. A side effect is an unwanted response to a medication when it is taken in normal doses. Side effects can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent.

The side effects listed below are not experienced by everyone who takes this medication. If you are concerned about side effects, discuss the risks and benefits of this medication with your doctor.

The following side effects have been reported by at least 1% of people taking this medication. Many of these side effects can be managed, and some may go away on their own over time.

Contact your doctor if you experience these side effects and they are severe or bothersome. Your pharmacist may be able to advise you on managing side effects.

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting

Although most of the side effects listed below don’t happen very often, they could lead to serious problems if you do not check with your doctor or seek medical attention.

Check with your doctor as soon as possible if any of the following side effects occur:

  • signs of kidney problems (e.g., thirst, flushing, dizziness, muscle weakness, confusion)

Stop taking the medication and seek immediate medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • symptoms of a severe allergic reaction (e.g., hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of the mouth, tongue, face, or throat)

Some people may experience side effects other than those listed. Check with your doctor if you notice any symptom that worries you while you are taking this medication.

Are there any other precautions or warnings for this medication?

Before you begin using a medication, be sure to inform your doctor of any medical conditions or allergies you may have, any medications you are taking, whether you are pregnant or breast-feeding, and any other significant facts about your health. These factors may affect how you should use this medication.

Digestive tract symptoms: Fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, or bloating could be symptoms of appendicitis. Speak with your doctor before taking magnesium hydroxide if you have any of these symptoms.

If you have an ileostomy or colostomy, it is recommended that you avoid magnesium hydroxide and other laxatives.

Heart disease: Magnesium can cause a condition called heart block, a slowing down of the heart rate. Due to this side effect, magnesium hydroxide is generally not recommended for people with heart block.

Kidney function: If you have decreased function or kidney disease, discuss with your doctor how this medication may affect your medical condition, how your medical condition may affect the dosing and effectiveness of this medication, and whether any special monitoring is needed.

Long-term use: This medication should not be taken daily for more than one week. Long-term use can make your bowels dependent on this medication to function. If you experience constipation for more than one week, contact your doctor.

Myasthenia gravis: Myasthenia gravis is a condition that causes specific muscle weakness. Magnesium hydroxide may cause the symptoms of myasthenia gravis to get worse. If you have myasthenia gravis, discuss with your doctor how this medication may affect your medical condition, how your medical condition may affect the dosing and effectiveness of this medication, and whether any special monitoring is needed.

Rectal bleeding or lack of bowel movement: If you experience rectal bleeding or do not have a bowel movement after using this medication, contact your doctor. These symptoms may mean you have a more serious condition.

Sudden change in bowel habits: If you’ve noticed a sudden, persistent change in your bowel habits over the last 2 weeks, talk to your doctor before taking this medication.

Pregnancy: Occasional use of magnesium hydroxide is considered safe during pregnancy. If you have concerns, talk your doctor about whether you should continue to take magnesium hydroxide.

Breast feeding: Occasional use of magnesium hydroxide is considered safe while breast feeding. If you are a breast-feeding mother and have concerns, talk to your doctor about whether you should continue breast feeding.

What other drugs could interact with this medication?

There may be an interaction between magnesium hydroxide and any of the following:

  • angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEIs; e.g., captopril, ramipril)
  • alfacalcidol
  • allopurinol
  • amphetamines (e.g., dextroamphetamine, lisdexamphetamine)
  • antipsychotic agents (e.g., chlorpromazine, perphenazine)
  • “azole” antifungals (e.g., itraconazole, ketoconazole)
  • bisacodyl
  • bisphosphonates (e.g., alendronate, didronate)
  • bosutinib
  • calcitriol
  • calcium channel blockers (e.g., diltiazem, nifedipine, verapamil)
  • calcium polystyrene sulfonate
  • cefuroxime
  • chloroquine
  • corticosteroids (e.g., dexamethasone, hydrocortisone, prednisone)
  • dabigatran etexilate
  • dasatinib
  • delavirdine
  • dexmethylphenidate
  • erlotinib
  • fexofenadine
  • gabapentin
  • iron salts (e.g., iron sucrose, ferrous gluconate, ferrous sulfate)
  • isoniazid
  • lactulose
  • mesalamine
  • methylphenidate
  • misoprostol
  • multivitamins/minerals (with adek, folate, iron)
  • mycophenolate
  • neuromuscular-blocking agents (e.g., pancuronium, succinylcholine)
  • nilotinib
  • penicillamine
  • phenytoin
  • phosphate supplements
  • ponatinib
  • protease inhibitors (e.g., indinavir, lopinavir, saquinavir)
  • quinidine
  • quinine
  • quinolone antibiotics (e.g., ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin, ofloxacin)
  • sodium polystyrene sulfonate
  • tetracyclines (e.g. doxycycline, minocycline, tetracycline)

Do not take other medications 2 hours before or 2 hours after taking magnesium hydroxide. Magnesium hydroxide may reduce the effectiveness of other medications.

If you are taking other medications, speak with your doctor or pharmacist. Depending on your specific circumstances, your doctor may want you to:

  • stop taking one of the medications,
  • change one of the medications to another,
  • change how you are taking one or both of the medications, or
  • leave everything as is.

An interaction between two medications does not always mean that you must stop taking one of them. Speak to your doctor about how any drug interactions are being managed or should be managed.

Medications other than those listed above may interact with this medication. Tell your doctor or prescriber about all prescription, over-the-counter (non-prescription), and herbal medications you are taking. Also tell them about any supplements you take. Since caffeine, alcohol, the nicotine from cigarettes, or street drugs can affect the action of many medications, you should let your prescriber know if you use them.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2020. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

A 73-year old man with end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) developed severely reduced heart rate followed by cardiac arrest in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, according to the report published in BMJ Case Reports.

The man had been prescribed daily doses of milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide) to relieve constipation and had reported persistent nausea and vomiting.

Medical staff initially diagnosed a heart attack combined with either cardiogenic shock (the inability to pump sufficient blood) and/or sepsis. Symptoms of hypermagnesaemia (excessively high blood magnesium levels) can mimic those of cardiac arrest with these complications.

Hospital personnel initiated advanced cardiac life support. However, they later discovered that the patient had a blood magnesium level of over four times the normal levels.

Doctors were able to normalise the patient’s magnesium levels, blood pressure and low heart rate over a period of three days.

“The patient underwent emergency dialysis with reduction in magnesium to 2.59 millimoles/ litre (mmol/l). After three consecutive days of dialysis, his serum magnesium concentration was 1.15 mmol/l,” ​wrote senior author Dr. Elizabeth Sage Colombo from Veterans Health Administration, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“In summary, two mechanisms, decreased elimination as a consequence of ESKD and the ingestion of laxatives resulted in nearly fatal hypermagnesaemia in our patient. He responded remarkably well to haemodialysis,“ ​she continued. ​

Magnesium contraindicated in renal disease​

Thepatient’s initial serum magnesium measurement of 4.1 mmol/l was at first thought to be an error as he had been tested 4 days previously at 1.15 mmol/l – marginally above the upper normal range limit of 1.0 mmol/l. However, repeat measurement verified the abnormally high result, suggesting that the patient had ingested large quantities of the milk of magnesia in the intervening period.

Phillips Milk of Magnesia Original 12 oz constipation


Phillips Milk of Magnesia Original 12 oz

  • Relieves occasional constipation
  • Original flavor
  • Stimulant free and cramp free
  • Sugar Free
  • Uses magnesium, which works with your body’s natural process, to relieve constipation
  • Laxative Phillips’ provides gentle and effective relief of occasional constipation
  • Magnesium hydroxide is an over-the-counter hyperosmotic laxative of the saline type that encourages bowel movements by drawing water into the bowel from surrounding body tissue. Saline hyperosmotic laxatives (often called “salts”) are used for rapid emptying of the lower intestine and bowel
  • This product usually produces bowel movement in 1/2 to 6 hours
  • Allows for fast relief of upset stomach, heart burn and acid indigestion
  • For Ingredients,Drug Facts, and Other Information


  • Active Ingredients: In each 5 mL tsp: Magnesium Hydroxide (1200 mg)
  • Inactive Ingredients: Purified Water, Sodium Hypochlorite


  • Do not exceed the maximum recommended daily dose in a 24 hour period.
  • Shake well before use. Dose may be taken once a day preferably at bedtime, in divided doses, or as directed by a doctor. Drink a full glass (8 oz) of liquid with each dose. For accurate dosing, use the enclosed dosing cap, mL = milliliter; tbsp = tablespoon.
  • Adults and children 12 years and older: 30 mL (2 tbsp) to 60 mL (4 tbsp).
  • Children under 6 years: Ask a doctor.
  • Children 6 to 11 years: 15 mL (1 tbsp) to 30 mL (2 tbsp).
  • Other Information: Each tablespoon (15 mL) contains: magnesium 500 mg. Store at room temperature and avoid freezing. Close cap tightly after use.


  • Ask a doctor before use if you have:Kidney disease
    A magnesium-restricted diet
    Stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting
    A sudden change in bowel habits that lasts over 14 days
  • Ask a doctor or pharmacist before use if you are taking a prescription drug. This product may interact with certain prescription drugs.
  • Stop use and ask a doctor if You have rectal bleeding or no bowel movement after using this product. These could be signs of a serious condition
  • You need to use a laxative for more than 1 week
  • If pregnant or breast-feeding, ask a health professional before use.
  • Keep out of reach of children. In case of overdose, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.

Frequently Asked Question:

1) What is constipation?

Constipation, or irregularity, is a condition in which your stools pass more slowly than usual through the bowels (intestines). This condition occurs when too much water is removed from the stools, and they become hardened, making it difficult to have bowel movements.

2) What is a normal or “regular” frequency of bowel movements?

Normal frequency of bowel movements is different for each individual. Some people have two or three a day. Others have only three or four bowel movements a week.

3) What causes constipation?

The condition can be caused by a variety of factors such as not drinking enough fluids, a lack of sufficient fiber in the diet, illness, pregnancy, or just lack of physical activity. Many people experience constipation due to change in diet or dehydration. Medications such as cough syrups, sedatives, and antacids as well as many commonly prescribed medications for cholesterol, depression, and cancer can also cause constipation. Even people who have a diet rich in fiber can occasionally become constipated.

4) What can I use for gentle, quick relief of constipation?

Doctors often recommend a safe, gentle overnight laxative like Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia. Phillips’ works with your body’s natural processes by drawing water into the bowel to provide a soft stool. Phillips’ is the only stimulant-free line of overnight laxatives. Phillips’ offers Milk of Magnesia liquids available in both regular and concentrated formulas in several flavors, easy-to-swallow caplets, and mint-flavored chewable tablets.

5) What are the benefits of using stimulant-free laxatives like Phillips?

Stimulant laxatives, such as those containing bisacodyl, work by stimulating fluid secretion and causing contractions of the colon to produce a bowel movement. These actions can cause intestinal distress in some people, which may lead to painful cramps. Phillips’ products work differently. They don’t contain stimulants and work with your body’s natural processes to gently relieve constipation. As always, read the label of any product to make sure it’s right for you. But if you’re looking for a safe, gentle and stimulant-free laxative, it’s an easy choice with Phillips’– it’s the only full line of laxatives that is completely stimulant-free.

6) Why should Phillips’ be my choice for my laxative needs?

Not only is Phillips’ the only line of laxatives that is completely stimulant-free, but all Phillips’ products are unsurpassed in effectiveness and safety. Phillips’ takes care of all your regularity needs, and has been trusted for over 125 years. For further information, please call 1-800-986-0369(9:00am – 5:00pm Eastern Time).

7) What flavors does Phillips’ come in?

•Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia comes in Original, Fresh Mint, and Wild Cherry flavors.

•Concentrated Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia come in Fresh Strawberry flavor.

•Phillips’ Chewable tablets are Mint flavored.

8) What forms does Phillips’ come in?


– Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia — Original, Wild Cherry, Fresh Mint

– Phillips’ Concentrated Milk of Magnesia — Fresh Strawberry flavor

•Caplets — Phillips’ Laxative Dietary Supplement

•Liquid Gels — Phillips’ Stool Softener

•Tablets — Phillips’ Chewable Tablets

9) Is there any gluten in Phillips’ products?

We do not add any gluten to our products. However, we cannot guarantee that they are 100% gluten free as this product is produced in a facility that manufactures or packages other items which may contain gluten.

10) Can a diabetic use Phillips’ products?

Our Original and Fresh Mint Milk of Magnesia products are sugar free. However, as with any medication, persons who are diabetic should check with their doctor before using this product.

11) Can I take Phillips’ products if I take other medications?

We recommend that you check with your doctor before taking any medications together. Some medications interfere with one another and thus can limit their effectiveness.

If you are presently taking a prescription drug, do not take this product without checking with your doctor or other health professional.

12) Can I take Phillips’ products if I am pregnant or nursing?

If you are pregnant or nursing, we recommend that you check with your doctor before using this or any other medication.

13) Is there supposed to be a safety seal under the cap?

Phillips’ liquid products are packaged with an imprinted plastic wrap that covers the bottle neck to protect against product tampering.

14) How much Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia liquid (Original, Fresh Mint, and Wild Cherry) can I take for laxative use?

•Adults and children 12 years and older: 30 mL (2 TBSP) to 60 mL (4 TBSP)

•Children 6 to 11 years: 15 mL (1 TBSP) to 30 mL (2 TBSP)

•Children under 6 years: ask a doctor

15) When and how will Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia begin to work as a laxative?

Stimulant-free Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia generally produces a bowel movement in 1/2 to 6 hours. However, this can vary according to the individual. Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia is a saline laxative which means it acts by drawing water into the intestine to help gently pass the bowel movement.

16)What kind of laxative is milk of magnesia?

Magnesium hydroxide is an over-the-counter hyperosmotic laxative of the saline type that encourages bowel movements by drawing water into the bowel from surrounding body tissue. Saline hyperosmotic laxatives (often called “salts”) are used for rapid emptying of the lower intestine and bowel.

17)What is the use of milk of magnesia?

Magnesium hydroxide belongs to two groups of medications: laxatives and antacids. It is used to relieve occasional constipation and also to relieve symptoms caused by heartburn, upset stomach, or indigestion.

18) There are many milk of magnesia product, how do we know which one is the original?

Phillips is the original milk of magnesia.

19 ) Do I have to keep Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia in the refrigerator?

No. Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia should not be refrigerated at any time and must not be frozen. Simply keep the cap tightly secured and store at room temperature.

20) Why does my Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia look different than usual (watery, gritty)?

If Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia freezes, it will have a watery and gritty appearance when thawed. For this reason, do not store it in your freezer or refrigerator. For best results, we do not recommend using the product if it has a watery appearance.

Note: Image and Description may vary from actual product due to Continuous manufacturer Product updates. We recommend that you do not rely solely on the information presented and that you always read labels, warnings, and directions before using or consuming a product

Phillips Milk of Magnesia

Generic Name: magnesium hydroxide (mag NEE see um hye DROCK side)
Brand Name: Ex-Lax Milk of Magnesia, Milk of Magnesia, Pedia-Lax Chewable, Phillips Milk of Magnesia

Medically reviewed by on Nov 21, 2019 – Written by Cerner Multum

  • Overview
  • Side Effects
  • Dosage
  • Interactions
  • Pregnancy
  • More

What is Phillips Milk of Magnesia?

Magnesium is a naturally occurring mineral. Phillips Milk of Magnesia reduces stomach acid, and increases water in the intestines which may induce bowel movements.

Phillips Milk of Magnesia is used as a laxative to relieve occasional constipation.

Phillips Milk of Magnesia is also used as an antacid to relieve indigestion, sour stomach, and heartburn.

Phillips Milk of Magnesia may also be used for purposes not listed in this medication guide.

Important Information

Do not use Phillips Milk of Magnesia without a doctor’s advice if you have stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting.

Before taking this medicine

Do not use Phillips Milk of Magnesia without a doctor’s advice if you have stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting.

Ask a doctor or pharmacist if Phillips Milk of Magnesia is safe to use if:

  • you have kidney disease;

  • you are on a low-magnesium diet; or

  • you have a sudden change in bowel habits that has been ongoing for longer than 2 weeks.

Ask a doctor before using this medicine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

How should I take Phillips Milk of Magnesia?

Use exactly as directed on the label, or as prescribed by your doctor.

Measure liquid medicine carefully. Use the dosing syringe provided, or use a medicine dose-measuring device (not a kitchen spoon).

You may need to shake the oral suspension before each use.

You must chew the chewable tablet before you swallow it.

Take this medicine with a full glass (8 ounces) of water.

When taken as a laxative, Phillips Milk of Magnesia should produce a bowel movement within 30 minutes to 6 hours.

Call your doctor if the condition you are treating with Phillips Milk of Magnesia does not improve, or if it gets worse while using this medicine.

Do not use Phillips Milk of Magnesia for longer than 7 days without medical advice.

Store at room temperature away from moisture and heat.

What happens if I miss a dose?

Since Phillips Milk of Magnesia is used when needed, you may not be on a dosing schedule. Skip any missed dose if it’s almost time for your next dose. Do not use two doses at one time.

What happens if I overdose?

Seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.

Overdose symptoms may include severe diarrhea, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, and little or no urination.

What should I avoid while taking Phillips Milk of Magnesia?

Follow your doctor’s instructions about any restrictions on food, beverages, or activity.

Phillips Milk of Magnesia side effects

Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficult breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Stop using Phillips Milk of Magnesia and call your doctor at once if you have:

  • severe nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea;

  • no bowel movement after using the medicine as a laxative;

  • rectal bleeding; or

  • worsening symptoms.

Common side effects may include:

  • diarrhea; or

  • a decreased sense of taste.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

What other drugs will affect Phillips Milk of Magnesia?

Other drugs may affect Phillips Milk of Magnesia, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Tell your doctor about all your current medicines and any medicine you start or stop using.

Further information

Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Copyright 1996-2018 Cerner Multum, Inc. Version: 5.01.

Medical Disclaimer

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  • Drug class: antacids

Consumer resources

  • Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia

Other brands: Milk of Magnesia, Dulcolax Milk of Magnesia, Pedia-Lax Chewable Tablets, Ex-Lax Milk of Magnesia

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Milk of Magnesia: Safety and Side Effects

Q1. Is it safe to take milk of magnesia about three times a week? Are there side effects to watch out for?

Milk of magnesia is quite safe and can be taken daily without problems by patients with occasional constipation, heartburn, or dyspepsia. The most common side effect is diarrhea, although this is the desired effect for patients with constipation. Allergic reactions occasionally occur, and patients with kidney disease should not take milk of magnesia without speaking to their doctor. However, milk of magnesia is a relatively safe over-the-counter remedy if used properly.

Q2. I have diarrhea almost every morning that lasts until almost 11 a.m. or later. I cannot make any appointments or commitments for mornings. Sometimes I won’t have a bowel movement for a day, then it is normal until later on in the day, and then I have diarrhea again. Will a colonoscopy help to find out what the problem is?

— Joan, Nevada

In the United States, the most common cause of chronic loose stools alternating with constipation is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This very common disorder is caused by abnormal responses of the nerves that supply the colon. IBS can be constipation- or diarrhea-predominant, or vary between the two. Typically, bowel movements are worse in the morning after waking from sleep, most likely due to the accumulation of stool overnight. IBS is also usually accompanied by a sensation of abdominal bloating.

Although your symptoms, including diarrhea, fit a diagnosis of IBS, the pattern is affecting your daily functioning to a level where it would be prudent to see a gastroenterologist to rule out other causes of your change in bowel habits. This work-up should include both some simple laboratory tests and stool tests, but may also include a colonoscopy.

Q3. I suffer from incontinence of the bowel. This is very embarrassing for me. I have no control of it at all and no warning when this happens; it just comes out in a pumping motion. I have to wear a pad all the time. The only thing that helps sometimes if I have to leave the house is to take Lomotil and Tylenol 3. If I’m not leaving the house I just sit it out. Does anyone else out there have this problem? If so, what do you do for it?

— Rose, Arizona

The first thing I want to tell you is that incontinence of the bowel, also called fecal incontinence, is a much more common condition than most realize, affecting more than five million Americans. Although this condition increases with age, many young people suffer from it as well. Common causes include constipation, diarrhea, nerve or muscle damage, or a weakened anal sphincter associated with aging. The most important advice I can give you regarding this condition is to see a gastrointestinal motility expert; not all gastroenterologists are experts in this field but any of them can refer you to one. It is essential that you get to the root of your problem, since there are a variety of causes and they are treated differently.

For example, your diet may be part of the problem. The ultimate goal is stool consistency, which will allow you to have greater control over your bowels. In addition, you should avoid caffeine, which acts as a laxative, and eat several smaller meals throughout the day rather than three large ones.

If your doctor determines that your incontinence is due to a loss of sphincter control or a decreased sensitivity as to when you need to defecate, he or she may suggest bowel-training exercises to help you build muscle strength. There are also a number of tests that can help pinpoint the cause of fecal incontinence. These include:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy. This procedure allows the doctor to see the inside of the large intestine from the rectum through the last part of the colon.
  • Anorectal manometry. During this procedure, a probe is inserted into the anal canal to measure the pressure exerted by the sphincter muscles.
  • Defecography. Also known as proctography, this radiological test measures the degree of incontinence by allowing the doctor to see what actually occurs when you empty your rectum.
  • Anal manometry. The doctor inserts a flexible tube into your anus and then inflates a small balloon located on the tip. This shows how tight the anal sphincter is and measures your rectum’s sensitivity.
  • Anorectal ultrasonography. A transducer (a small wand that transmits sound waves) is inserted into the rectum to allow your doctor to view images of the internal structure of the rectum and sphincter.
  • Proctosigmoidoscopy. A tiny camera is attached to the end of a long, flexible tube, which is inserted into the rectum and sigmoid to look for signs of inflammation, tumors, or scar tissue.
  • Anal electromyography. This test involves the insertion of tiny needle electrodes into muscles around your anus that can reveal signs of nerve damage.

Depending on the cause, different treatments or even minor procedures may be very helpful, or if necessary, a more intensive surgical solution could be indicated. In general, over-the-counter Imodium works better than Lomotil specifically for incontinence, so you may want to try this medication, particularly before leaving the house.

Q4. Why do I always seem to have diarrhea during my period?

Hormonal changes that occur during the menstrual cycle can alter bowel movements. For some patients, constipation appears during mid-cycle or during the menstrual period itself, while for others, loose stools predominate. However, we don’t know exactly why these female hormones change bowel habits distinctly in different individuals.

You may want to try over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications, which may improve your symptoms. If the diarrhea gets worse, then you should see a physician to rule out inflammatory bowel disease or another chronic condition.

Q5. I am a cancer survivor, with many symptoms left over from radiation and chemo. I have constant (and immediate) diarrhea from short bowel syndrome. I’ve lost a lot of weight. A nutritionist suggested I eat soft protein and lots of meat but cut out all fresh veggies, fruit, and dairy. I don’t think I should take this as a final answer to my problem. Drugs that contain Vicodin help the stools become more solid. But one can’t live on narcotics! Do you have any suggestions?

Short bowel syndrome can occur when 50 percent or more of the small intestine is diseased or surgically removed (resectioned). Conditions that can impair the small intestine to this degree include Crohn’s disease, ischemic insult to the small bowel (the interruption or slowing of blood flow to the intestine, which causes severe inflammation), and swelling brought on by radiation therapy.

Fortunately, for many patients, the small intestine often adapts or increases its ability to absorb nutrients following injury or resection, a process that can take up to three years. For patients whose small bowel is not functioning well, a growth hormone or other hormones can be prescribed to improve the intestine’s adjustment.

It is important to see a physician who can measure how well your small intestine is absorbing essential nutrients with tests such as beta-carotene and D-xylose absorption and stool fat concentration. The results can help guide your diet and your need for nutritional supplements. For example, if fat is poorly absorbed, then a low-fat diet and supplements of more easily absorbed fatty acids, like coconut oil or palm kernel oil, may help. While I would agree that protein is important for patients with a low-functioning small bowel, the fiber found in fresh fruits and vegetables can be well tolerated and actually “bulk up” the stools.

Regarding medications, Vicodin and other codeinelike substances can help reduce diarrhea by slowing the small intestine’s transit time. Other drugs, such as loperamide (Imodium), work well in many patients. Finally, some patients develop bacterial overgrowth after radiation treatments — this can aggravate absorption problems and diarrhea. It would be helpful for you to meet with a physician who specializes in short bowel syndrome and discuss all of your options, from antibiotics to dietary changes.

Q6. I have had diarrhea for nine months now. Is there anything I can take to remedy this?

— Alice, Canada

The most effective way to treat the symptoms of diarrhea is to determine what’s causing it. As a general rule of thumb, people between the ages of 15 and 30 suffering from chronic diarrhea have irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), or celiac disease. After age 30, other conditions become more common, including nondigestive disorders that can result in diarrhea, such as diabetes, pancreatitis, rheumatologic disorders, and the side effects of medications.

In all age groups, infectious causes of diarrhea should be ruled out — risk factors for infectious diarrhea include travel and recent antibiotic use that can result in Clostridium difficile colitis. Two of the most common causes of chronic infectious diarrhea are the parasites giardia and amoeba; both organisms can be found throughout the United States and should be ruled out in your case. The main point here is that symptoms of chronic diarrhea should not be treated without a visit to your physician — he or she can help you to determine the cause of the problem and prescribe the appropriate treatment.

Q7. I am a 50-year-old male, and I have been taking a senna-based laxative for about 20 years and now find myself dependent on the laxative for a bowel movement. Is there any way to kick this habit and get back to a natural bowel movement on my own?

Unfortunately, senna compounds and some other over-the-counter laxatives deplete the gut of neurotransmitters over the long term and lead to the type of dependency you describe. These supplements should be used only on a very short-term basis and can be quite effective. Once senna or another stimulant depletes these neurotransmitters, long-term constipation may become permanent.

Fortunately, there is another approach that works well, even for those who have become dependent on products such as senna. This approach includes drinking enough fluids daily (at least eight glasses of water or the equivalent per day), eating a high-fiber diet, and using medications known as osmotic agents. These agents include lactulose, sorbitol, and Miralax, all of which are available by prescription (Miralax has recently become available over the counter as well).

Q8. I try to eat a healthy diet that includes oats, grains, fruit, and plenty of vegetables. I drink lots of water and exercise daily. Can you give me an idea why I still periodically suffer from constipation?

— Jaunita, Illinois

The most common cause of constipation in Western countries, including the United States, is constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), an intestinal disorder that is often associated with bloating. Occasional constipation can be treated with fiber supplements such as Metamucil and Citrucel, in addition to the measures you are already taking. There is also a new over-the-counter laxative, Miralax, that has been shown to be safe and effective in patients with occasional constipation. If your symptoms become severe or more frequent, you should see a gastroenterologist to rule out other causes of constipation.

Learn more in the Everyday Health Digestive Health Center.

5 Fast Facts About Milk of Magnesia


Nancy LeBrun Was this helpful? (0)

Milk of magnesia has been around as a remedy for about 140 years and is one of the most common over-the-counter treatments for constipation and acid indigestion. It gets its name from the milky look of the main ingredient, magnesium hydroxide, when it’s mixed with water. Here’s a quick look at how to use it, how it works, and possible side effects.

1. Milk of magnesia is most often used as a laxative.

Milk of magnesia is an antacid that can help settle your stomach if you have indigestion, but is more commonly used as a laxative. If you are constipated—meaning you are having fewer bowel movements than usual—try eating more fiber and drinking plenty of water before taking any medication, including milk of magnesia, to relieve the problem.

2. A dose of milk of magnesia for constipation includes a glass of water.

In liquid form, the dosage to relieve constipation for people 12 years and older is 2 to 4 tablespoons, usually taken at bedtime, followed by at least 8 ounces of water. For an upset stomach, take 1 to 3 tablespoons, up to four times a day. Always follow the directions on the package and do not take more than the recommended amount.

3. Milk of magnesia can interact with other medications.

Most people tolerate milk of magnesia well, but it can cause cramps, diarrhea, and low blood pressure. If you are on prescription medicine, ask your doctor if you can take milk of magnesia, because it can interact with other drugs. People with chronic kidney disease should avoid taking too much milk of magnesia. If you are pregnant, check with your doctor before taking a laxative, including milk of magnesia.

4. Milk of magnesia works by absorbing water and neutralizing acid.

The magnesium hydroxide in milk of magnesia is a mineral that absorbs water. As it draws water into your intestines, it softens the stool and stimulates the intestines. That makes it easier to have a bowel movement. As a remedy for indigestion or heartburn, milk of magnesia’s alkaline nature neutralizes excess stomach acid.

5. Some people use milk of magnesia as a home remedy for skin conditions.

Milk of magnesia is a popular folk remedy for acne, oily skin, dandruff, and itchy scalp. Some women use it as a makeup primer to absorb oil on the face before applying foundation. Although there is no scientific evidence to support these claims, it continues to be a popular home remedy.

Was this helpful? (0) Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 10

© 2019 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. The content on Healthgrades does not provide medical advice. Always consult a medical provider for diagnosis and treatment. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

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Treatment for Constipation

How can I treat my constipation?

You can most often treat your constipation at home by doing the following

Change what you eat and drink

Changing what you eat and drink may make your stools softer and easier to pass. To help relieve your symptoms

  • eat more high-fiber foods
  • drink plenty of water and other liquids if you eat more fiber or take a fiber supplement

Read about what you should eat and drink to help relieve constipation. Depending on your age and sex, adults should get 25 to 31 grams of fiber a day.3

You may be able to treat and prevent your constipation by changing what you eat and drink.

Get regular physical activity

Getting regular physical activity may help relieve your symptoms.

Try bowel training

Your doctor may suggest that you try to train yourself to have a bowel movement at the same time each day to help you become more regular. For example, trying to have a bowel movement 15 to 45 minutes after breakfast may help, because eating helps your colon move stool.

Make sure you give yourself enough time to have a bowel movement, and use the bathroom as soon as you feel the need to go. Try to relax your muscles or put your feet on a footstool to make yourself more comfortable.

Stop taking certain medicines or dietary supplements

If you think certain medicines or dietary supplements are causing your constipation, talk with your doctor. He or she may change the dose or suggest a different medicine that does not cause constipation. Don’t change or stop any medicine or supplement without talking with a health care professional.

Take over-the-counter medicines

Your health care professional may recommend using a laxative for a short time. He or she will tell you what type of laxative is best for you

  • fiber supplements (Citrucel, FiberCon, Metamucil)
  • osmotic agents (Milk of Magnesia, Miralax)
  • stool softeners (Colace, Docusate)
  • lubricants, such as mineral oil (Fleet)
  • stimulants (Correctol, Dulcolax)

You should only use stimulants if your constipation is severe or other treatments have not worked.

If you’ve been taking laxatives for a long time and can’t have a bowel movement without taking a laxative, talk with your doctor about how you can slowly stop using them. If you stop taking laxatives, over time, your colon should start moving stool normally.

Your doctor may suggest using a laxative for a short time. He or she will tell you what type of laxative is best for you.

How do doctors treat constipation?

If self-care treatments don’t work, your doctor may prescribe a medicine to treat your constipation. If you’re taking an over-the-counter or prescription medicine or supplement that can cause constipation, your doctor may suggest you stop taking it, change the dose, or switch to a different one. Talk with your doctor before changing or stopping any medicines.

Prescription medicines

Your doctor may prescribe one of the following medicines for constipation

  • lubiprostone—a medicine prescribed to increase fluid in your digestive tract, which can help reduce pain in your abdomen, make your stool softer, and increase how often you have bowel movements
  • linaclotide or plecanatide—medicines that help make your bowel movements regular if you have irritable bowel syndrome with constipation or long-lasting constipation without a known cause
  • prucalopride—a medicine that helps your colon move stool if you have long-lasting constipation without a known cause

Biofeedback therapy

If you have problems with the muscles that control bowel movements, your doctor may recommend biofeedback therapy to retrain your muscles. By using biofeedback therapy, you can change how you make your muscles work.


Your doctor may recommend surgery to treat an anorectal blockage caused by rectal prolapse if other treatments don’t work. Your doctor may perform surgery to remove your colon if your colon muscles don’t work correctly. If your doctor recommends surgery, ask about the benefits and risks.

How can I prevent constipation?

You can help prevent constipation by doing some of the same things that treat constipation

  • get enough fiber in your diet
  • drink plenty of water and other liquids
  • get regular physical activity
  • try to have a bowel movement at the same time every day

Learn more about how you can help prevent constipation with eating, diet, and nutrition.

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