1. About docusate
Docusate is a type of medicine called a laxative. It helps to soften your poo and makes your bowel movements easier if you have problems pooing (constipation).
You may also be given docusate if you're going to have an x-ray of your stomach. It can help you empty your bowels beforehand.
Docusate comes as capsules and as a liquid that you swallow. It also comes as an enema. This is a tube of liquid medicine which you squeeze into your anus (bottom).
Docusate is available on prescription or to buy from pharmacies. There is one brand called DulcoEase that you can buy in pharmacies and shops.
2. Key facts
- Docusate capsules and liquid take 1 or 2 days to work.
- The enema usually works within 20 minutes, so it's best to stay close to a toilet.
- Only give docusate to a child under 12 years old if their doctor prescribes it.
- Do not take it for more than a week without talking with your doctor.
- Common side effects include feeling sick (nausea).
3. Who can and cannot take docusate
Most adults and children aged 12 years and over can safely take docusate.
Never give docusate to a child under 12 years old unless their doctor prescribes it.
Docusate is not suitable for some people. To make sure it is safe for you, tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have:
- ever had an allergic reaction to docusate or any other medicines
- a blockage in your gut (intestine)
- stomach pains
- been feeling sick or have vomited in the last 24 hours
Do not use an enema containing docusate if you have:
- piles (haemorrhoids) or bleeding from your bottom
- a sore around your anus (anal fissure)
- ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, or other inflammatory bowel condition
- parlytic ileus (when the muscles in your bowel are not able to move food and liquid along)
4. How and when to take or use docusate
Docusate comes as capsules, liquid and an enema.
How to take or use it
Capsules – swallow the capsule whole with plenty of water.
Liquid – this comes with a plastic cup or spoon to measure the dose. Do not use a kitchen spoon as it will not give the right amount. If you do not have a cup or spoon, ask your pharmacist for one. When you've swallowed it, drink plenty of water or have another drink, such as milk or orange juice.
Enema – squeeze the tube of liquid gently into your anus. The information leaflet which comes with your docusate will explain how to do this.
Docusate does not usually upset your stomach. You can take the capsules or liquid with or without food. Try to take your medicine at regular intervals throughout the day. Mealtimes (breakfast, lunch and dinner) are useful reminders.
There is no specific time of day to use an enema but it works quickly (usually between 5 and 20 minutes), so use it when you know you'll be near a toilet.
Capsules – the normal dose is 1 capsule, taken 3 times a day. Do not take more than 5 capsules in a day.
Liquid – the normal dose is two or three 5ml spoonfuls. Take this dose 3 times a day.
Enema – normally 1 tube of liquid is all you need. If you need a second dose, you can use it later in the day or the next day.
You will usually feel more comfortable within 1 or 2 days of treatment. Reduce the dose as your condition gets better.
Drink plenty of fluids (6 to 8 glasses a day) while you are taking docusate or your constipation may get worse.
What if I forget to take it?
If you forget a dose of docusate, do not worry. Just take the next dose as normal.
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 docusate as a one-off is unlikely to harm you, but it is a good idea to drink lots of water. You may get diarrhoea and stomach pain, but this will usually get better within 1 or 2 days.
If you're worried, talk to your doctor or a pharmacist for advice.
5. Side effects
Like all medicines, docusate may cause side effects in some people but most people have no side effects or only minor ones.
Common side effects
If you get any of these side effects, talk to your doctor or pharmacist:
- feeling sick (nausea)
- stomach cramps
These side effects are mild and usually go away after a couple of days.
When using a docusate enema you may get a burning feeling or pain around your bottom (anus). Occasionally the wall of the anus may bleed. This is a reaction to the enema and it usually clears up quickly. If the pain or bleeding does not go away or you are worried, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Serious side effects
In rare cases, it's possible to have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to docusate.
These are not all the side effects of docusate. For a full list see the leaflet inside your medicines packet.
7. How to cope with side effects of docusate
What to do about:
- feeling sick – try taking docusate with a meal or snack. You could also try mixing your dose with some water or fruit juice.
- diarrhoea – if you’re using docusate for mild constipation and get diarrhoea, stop taking docusate. Your bowels will usually return to normal in a few days. Drink plenty of water or other fluids to prevent dehydration and stop the constipation returning. If your doctor has prescribed docusate for severe or long-term constipation and you get diarrhoea, ask them for advice about what to do. Do not take any other medicines to treat diarrhoea without speaking to a pharmacist or doctor.
- stomach cramps – if you get stomach cramps, reduce your dose of docusate until this goes away.
8. Pregnancy and breastfeeding
If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, you can try to treat constipation without taking a medicine. This involves eating more fibre and drinking 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 a laxative, such as lactulose or Fybogel. These laxatives are quite often used during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
Docusate in pregnancy
Docusate is occasionally used in pregnancy and there is no evidence to suggest it will harm your baby. However, other types of laxative are usually tried first, because there is more information to say that they are safe.
Docusate and breastfeeding
If your doctor or midwife recommends docusate, instead of lactulose or Fybogel, it’s usually ok to use this medicine while breastfeeding. The amounts of docusate found in breast milk are probably very small and are unlikely to affect your baby.
If you notice that your baby is not feeding as well as usual, or if you have any other concerns about your baby, talk to your health visitor, midwife or doctor as soon as possible.
For more information about how laxatives can affect you and your baby, read this leaflet about treating constipation on the Best Use of Medicines in Pregnancy (BUMPs) website.
10. Cautions with other medicines
Do not take docusate with a mineral oil laxative such as liquid paraffin.
Mixing docusate with herbal remedies and supplements
There's very little information about taking herbal remedies and supplements with docusate.
11. Common questions about docusate
How does docusate work?
When will I feel better?
How long willI take docusate for?
Is it safe to take docusate for a long time?
Can I take different laxatives together?
Are there other laxatives I can try?
Is there any food or drink I need to avoid?
Can I drink alcohol with it?
Can I use docusate after surgery?
Can lifestyle changes help constipation?
Page last reviewed: 11/03/2021
Next review due: 11/03/2024