On the surface, using Epsom salt for constipation seems like an easy enough task: Follow the package instructions exactly, mix a small amount of Epsom salt in water, drink it and wait a few hours. But there's actually a lot more to it than that. Magnesium sulfate, the chemical name for Epsom salt, is not safe for everyone to take, nor should it be used for frequent constipation as this increases the risk of magnesium poisoning. Consult a physician to make sure Epsom salt is safe and appropriate for you to use.
Laxative Effects of Magnesium Sulfate
Magnesium, whether it's acquired by using Epsom salt mixed in water or an over-the-counter product such as milk of magnesia, works by drawing fluid into your colon, which softens the stool and makes it easier for you to pass. Your body, however, keeps magnesium in a very delicate balance; too much or too little can have serious health effects. While the amount of magnesium in an occasional over-the-counter constipation treatment is not likely to cause the average healthy person any serious problems, some people should not use Epsom salts orally. For example, Drugs.com warns that you should not use Epsom salts for certain chronic diseases, such as diabetes and kidney problems; if you suffer from eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia; if you have used laxatives for a week or longer; or if your doctor has prescribed a low-magnesium diet for you.
Interactions With Medications
If you use Epsom salt as a laxative, do so only with your doctor's OK as many common drugs can interact with it. The website, NHS Choices, lists commonly prescribed drugs such as ACE inhibitors; antifungal drugs; antihistamines; many antibiotics and antiviral drugs; corticosteroids; antipsychotic drugs; certain heart medications and even aspirin as drugs that should not be used with Epsom salt.
Alternatives to Epsom Salt
As the Merck Manuals website points out, doctors typically recommend dietary changes for most constipation. You've probably heard the familiar advice to increase fiber and fluid intake. In fact, relying on Epsom salt or any other laxative can actually make constipation more likely, as your body comes to rely on these quick fixes. If you experience more than just occasional constipation, it's important to skip the Epsom salt and consult your doctor to examine whether lifestyle changes might help. Your doctor will also want to rule out more serious causes of your constipation.
The Drugs.com website describes certain symptoms or medical conditions that require avoiding the use of Epsom salts for your constipation. Abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, bowel problems such as obstruction or impaction, colitis or sudden changes in bowel habits that last beyond two weeks are all red flags that mean Epsom salt and other laxatives should not be used. Consult your doctor right away for treatment.