Emollients

Emollients (surfactants) are stool softeners (surface-acting drugs) and lubricants used to prevent constipation and decrease straining during defecation by lowering surface tension and promoting water accumulation in the intestine and stool.

Emollients are frequently prescribed for patients after a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or surgery and are also given prior to administration of other laxatives in treating fecal impaction. Docusate calcium (Surfak), docusate potassium (Dialose), docusate sodium (Colace), and docusate sodium with casanthranol (Peri-Colace) are examples of stool softeners.

Lubricants such as mineral oil increase water retention in the stool. Mineral oil absorbs essential fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Some of the minerals can be absorbed into the lymphatic system. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping. They are not indicated for children, the elderly, or patients with debilitating conditions because they can aspirate the mineral oil, resulting in lipid pneumonia.

Emollients are contraindicated in patients with inflammatory disorders of the GI tract, such as appendicitis, ulcerative colitis, undiagnosed severe pain that could be due to an inflammation of the intestines (diverticulitis, appendicitis), pregnancy, spastic colon, or bowel obstruction.

A list of stimulant drugs is provided in the Appendix. Detailed tables show doses, recommendations, expectations, side effects, contraindications, and more; available on the book's Web site (see URL in Appendix).

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