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How to Use Magnesium Citrate for Bowel Colon Prep

By Janette Sturges ; Updated July 27, 2017

Nothing is more unpleasant than having a procedure like a colonoscopy, barium enema or bowel surgery, except, perhaps, preparing for the procedure. For procedures that involve an examination of the bowels, the bowels first have to be cleared of everything, and doctors typically prescribe a series of laxatives, including magnesium citrate. Magnesium citrate is a liquid laxative available over the counter that works by drawing water into the intestinal tract, inducing defecation. Learn more about when and how to use magnesium citrate when a doctor has advised it for a medical procedure.

Using magnesium citrate before a procedure

Follow your doctor's directions. Magnesium citrate is often only one part of an entire bowel cleansing that your doctor may have prescribed before your colonoscopy or other procedure. First, read your doctor's directions carefully, and then read the directions on all of the medications your doctor has given you.

Buy a flavored version, preferably lemon-lime, and put it in the fridge, as chilled is the easiest way to consume it. It doesn't taste great, and you will be drinking the entire bottle.

Drink magnesium citrate on an empty stomach, according to the directions on the bottle or your doctor's directions. Your doctor should tell you when it's best to take it. If your doctor's directions and the directions on the bottle differ, call your doctor or pharmacist. Do not leave the house for the rest of the day or night.

Drink a full glass of water. Magnesium citrate works by pulling water into the intestinal tract, so it's important to have enough water in your system to avoid dehydration.

Wait and eliminate. Magnesium citrate is a strong laxative and will likely require multiple trips to the bathroom. You may also experience some minor cramping. Keeping hydrated will help with any discomfort. Bowel movements should occur in 30 minutes to six hours.


Even though magnesium citrate is available over the counter, do not use it unless you are preparing for a bowel procedure or otherwise advised by a doctor. Overuse can result in laxative dependence. If magnesium citrate does not produce a bowel movement or if you experience bleeding, contact your doctor. This could be a sign of a serious medical issue.

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