1. About bisacodyl
Bisacodyl is also used in hospitals to help you empty your bowels before surgery or some examinations or treatments. Your hospital will explain how to use it.
Bisacodyl comes as a tablet and a suppository (a medicine that you push gently into your anus).
The tablets and suppositories are available on prescription. Small packs are available to buy from supermarkets (up to 20 tablets).
Before trying bisacodyl, it’s better to try other ways to help your constipation by:
- having more fibre in your diet and drinking more water
Only use bisacodyl if you have tried other types of laxatives first such as:
- ’bulk-forming’ laxatives like Fybogel (ispaghula husk) and methylcellulose
- ‘osmotic’ laxatives like lactulose and polyethylene glycol
2. Key facts
- Bisacodyl tablets take 6 to 12 hours to work. The suppositories take 10 to 45 minutes to work, so it's best to stay close to a toilet.
- The most common side effects are feeling sick (nausea), diarrhoea, stomach pain or cramps.
- Only give bisacodyl to children if their doctor recommends it.
- Do not take bisacodyl tablets or use bisacodyl suppositories every day for more than 5 days.
3. Who can and cannot take bisacodyl
Bisacodyl can be used by most adults aged 18 years and over.
Children and young people aged 12 to 17 years can take bisacodyl if a doctor or pharmacist says it’s OK.
Children aged 11 years and under can only take bisacodyl if a doctor prescribes it.
Only give bisacodyl to children (under the age of 18) if a doctor or pharmacist recommends it.
Bisacodyl is not suitable for some people. To make sure it's safe for you, tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have:
- ever had an allergic reaction to bisacodyl or any other medicine in the past
- signs of dehydration
- severe stomach pain and you are feeling sick or being sick (nausea or vomiting)
- a serious problem in your stomach (abdomen), such as appendicitis, a blockage in your bowel (intestinal obstruction), ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, or a problem with the muscles in your bowel not being able to move food and liquid along
For tablets, also tell your doctor or pharmacist if you:
- cannot digest some sugars – the tablets contain a small amount of lactose and sucrose
For suppositories, also tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have:
- ever had an allergic reaction to suppositories
- tears or open sores (anal fissure) or cracked skin around your anus
4. How and when to take bisacodyl
How to take it
Take the medicine once a day just before bedtime.
You can take it with or without food. Swallow the tablet whole with water.
Do not have milk, indigestion remedies (antacids) or medicines to reduce stomach acid (for example, proton pump inhibitors) at the same time as bisacodyl. This is because they will stop the medicine working properly. Leave a gap of 1 hour between taking any of these and taking your bisacodyl tablets.
Read the instructions in the leaflet inside the package. They will explain how to use the suppository.
Take the wrapping off and push a suppository gently into your anus.
Suppositories work quickly (usually between 10 and 45 minutes), so use it when you know you will be near a toilet.
If you buy bisacodyl tablets (self-treatment)
The usual dose for adults, and children and young people aged 12 years and over, is 5mg to 10mg, taken once a day at bedtime.
If you have not taken bisacodyl before, start with one 5mg tablet and if that does not work you can increase the dose to a maximum of two 5mg tablets (10mg) at bedtime.
Only give bisacodyl to children aged 12 to 17 years if it has been recommended by a doctor or pharmacist.
If bisacodyl tablets are prescribed by a doctor
The usual starting dose for adults, and children aged 4 years and above, is 5mg, taken once a day at bedtime. A doctor may prescribe higher doses (up to a maximum of 20mg, taken once a day) if necessary.
The usual dose for:
- adults – one 10mg suppository, used once a day in the morning
- children aged 2 to 17 years – one 5mg or 10mg suppository, used once a day in the morning (on doctor's advice only)
What if I forget to take it?
If you forget a dose of bisacodyl, do not worry. Just take the next dose at the usual time.
Never take 2 doses at the same time. Never take an extra dose to make up for a forgotten one.
What if I take too much?
Taking an extra dose of bisacodyl is unlikely to harm you. You may get diarrhoea and stomach pain, but this should get better within a day or two.
If you're worried, talk to your doctor or pharmacist for advice.
5. Side effects
Like all medicines, bisacodyl may cause side effects in some people, but many people have no side effects or only minor ones.
Common side effects
Common side effects, which happen in more than 1 in 100 people, are:
- feeling sick (nausea)
- stomach pain or cramps
These side effects are mild and usually go away after a couple of days. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if the side effects bother you or do not go away.
Serious side effects
Call your doctor straight away if these rare side effects happen to you:
- feeling dizzy
- blood in your poo
- being sick (vomiting)
Serious allergic reaction
In rare cases, it's possible to have a serious allergic reaction to bisacodyl.
These are not all the side effects of bisacodyl. For a full list, see the leaflet inside your medicines packet.
6. How to cope with side effects
What to do about:
- feeling sick – try taking bisacodyl with some food.
- diarrhoea – stop taking bisacodyl and drink plenty of water or other fluids. Speak to a pharmacist if you have signs of dehydration, such as peeing less than usual or having dark, strong-smelling pee. Do not take any other medicines to treat diarrhoea without speaking to a pharmacist or doctor.
- stomach pain or cramps – reduce your dose of bisacodyl or stop taking it until these side effects go away.
7. Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Bisacodyl tablets or suppositories are not generally recommended if you are pregnant, especially in the first 3 months and while you are breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of taking bisacodyl.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it's always better to try to treat constipation without taking a medicine. Your doctor or midwife will first advise you to eat more fibre and drink plenty of fluids. It may also help to do gentle exercise.
If diet and lifestyle changes do not work, your doctor or midwife may recommend another laxative, such as lactulose or Fybogel. These are safer laxatives to take during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
8. Cautions with other medicines
Some medicines, and some foods, affect the way bisacodyl works.
- water tablets (diuretics), steroids (like prednisolone) or digoxin (a heart medicine) – these can upset the balance of salts and minerals in your body if you have too much bisacodyl. If you are taking digoxin, this imbalance makes it more likely you will have the serious side effects of digoxin. Talk to a doctor or pharmacist before taking bisacodyl if you are taking any of these medicines.
- indigestion remedies (antacids) and dairy products, like milk, cheese and yoghurt – these affect bisacodyl tablets and stop them working properly. They can also make the bisacodyl irritate your stomach and give you indigestion. Do not take bisacodyl at the same time – leave a gap of 1 hour before or after taking bisacodyl if you are having indigestion remedies or dairy products. The small amount of milk in coffee and tea is unlikely to affect it, but it's best to take bisacodyl tablets with a glass of water.
Mixing bisacodyl with herbal remedies or supplements
There is not enough research to know if complementary medicines and herbal remedies are safe to take with bisacodyl.
9. Common questions
How does bisacodyl work?
When will I feel better?
How long will I take bisacodyl for?
Is it safe to take bisacodyl for a long time?
Can I take different laxatives together?
Are other laxatives any better?
Will it affect my fertility?
Will it affect my contraception?
Is there any food and drink I need to avoid?
Can I drink alcohol with it?
Can I use bisacodyl after surgery?
Can lifestyle changes help constipation?
Page last reviewed: 19/04/2018
Next review due: 19/04/2021