A laxative is a medicine used to produce bowel movements. Laxative overdose occurs when someone takes more than the normal or recommended amount of this medicine. This can be by accident or on purpose.
Most laxative overdoses in children are accidental. However, some people regularly take overdoses of laxatives to try to lose weight.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual overdose. If you or someone you are with overdoses, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
Using too much of these drugs can cause symptoms of a laxative overdose:
Other laxative products may also cause an overdose.
Below are specific laxative drugs, with some brand names:
Other laxatives may also be available.
Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea are the most common symptoms of a laxative overdose. Dehydration and electrolyte (body chemicals and minerals) imbalance are more common in children than adults. Below are symptoms specific to the actual product.
Senna; Cascara sagrada:
Castor oil can cause gastrointestinal irritation.
Mineral oil can cause aspiration pneumonia, a condition where vomited stomach contents are inhaled into the lungs.
Products containing methylcellulose, carboxymethylcellulose, polycarbophil, or psyllium may cause choking or intestinal blockage if they are not taken with plenty of fluids.
Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make a person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.
Have this information ready:
Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does not need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, heart function, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated. The person may receive:
How well a person does depends on the type of laxative swallowed, how much was swallowed, and how much time passed before treatment was received.
First-time laxative overdoses are rarely serious. Severe symptoms are most likely in people who abuse laxatives by taking large amounts to lose weight. Fluid and electrolyte imbalances may occur. Inability to control bowel movements may also develop.
Laxatives containing magnesium can cause serious electrolyte and heart rhythm disturbances in people with impaired kidney function. These people may require the extra breathing support noted above.
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.