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Laxative vs. Purgative: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on October 18, 2023
Laxatives gently facilitate bowel movements; purgatives rapidly cleanse the bowels, often more aggressively.

Key Differences

Laxatives are substances that promote bowel movement by softening the stool or increasing its bulk. Purgatives, on the other hand, are substances that lead to a more intense and rapid bowel evacuation.
When thinking about their intensity, laxatives can be considered milder in action. They are commonly used to treat occasional constipation by gently increasing the frequency of bowel movements. Purgatives, in contrast, have a much stronger effect, causing quick and sometimes forceful bowel movements.
The choice between laxatives and purgatives often depends on the desired outcome. Laxatives are usually sufficient for most people looking to address mild constipation or promote regularity. Purgatives are typically reserved for more severe cases or when a rapid clearing of the bowel is required.
In terms of side effects, laxatives, when used as directed, generally have fewer side effects and are less likely to cause dehydration or mineral imbalances. Purgatives, because of their strong action, might lead to dehydration, cramps, and other side effects if used frequently or improperly.
Both laxatives and purgatives should be used with caution. Long-term or excessive use of either can disrupt the natural function of the bowels, leading to dependency or other health issues.

Comparison Chart


Milder, promotes gentle bowel movement
Stronger, causes rapid bowel evacuation

Common Usage

Treats occasional constipation
Clears the bowel quickly, used in severe cases

Frequency of Side Effects

Generally fewer when used properly
Can lead to more side effects like dehydration and cramps

Dependency Risk

Lower when used as directed
Higher, especially with frequent use

Duration of Action

Works gradually
Acts quickly, sometimes within hours

Laxative and Purgative Definitions


A substance that promotes easier bowel movements.
I took a laxative to relieve my constipation.


An agent that cleanses the bowels forcefully.
Some use a purgative to prepare for colonoscopies.


A medication or food that encourages fecal evacuation.
Fiber acts as a natural laxative, aiding digestion.


A remedy resulting in intense defecation.
If constipation becomes severe, a purgative might be prescribed.


An agent that softens the stool.
The doctor recommended a natural laxative like prunes.


A compound that induces forceful fecal discharge.
The traditional remedy included a powerful purgative herb.


A food or drug that stimulates evacuation of the bowels.


A substance causing rapid and strong bowel evacuations.
Before the medical procedure, he was given a purgative.


Stimulating evacuation of the bowels.


Strongly laxative


Causing looseness or relaxation, especially of the bowels.


A medication leading to aggressive emptying of the intestines.
This purgative can cause dehydration if one isn't careful.


Having the effect of moving the bowels, or aiding digestion and preventing constipation.


Tending to cleanse or purge, especially causing evacuation of the bowels.


Any substance, such as a food or in the form of a medicine which has a laxative effect.


A purgative agent or medicine; a cathartic.


Having a tendency to loosen or relax.


(capable of) purging


Having the effect of loosening or opening the intestines, and relieving from constipation; - opposed to astringent.


Something, such as a substance or medicine, that purges; laxative


A mild cathartic


Having the power or quality of purging; cathartic.


Stimulating evacuation of feces


A purging medicine; stimulates evacuation of the bowels


A remedy used to address occasional constipation.
A mild laxative can be useful after surgery to promote regularity.


A product that increases the water content in the intestines.
This laxative works by drawing water into the colon.


What is a laxative?

A laxative is a substance that promotes easier bowel movements, often by softening the stool or increasing its bulk.

When might a purgative be prescribed?

Purgatives might be used for severe constipation, bowel preparation before certain medical procedures, or rapid bowel cleansing.

What is a purgative?

A purgative is a substance causing rapid and strong bowel evacuations, often used in more severe cases of constipation.

Are laxatives and purgatives the same?

No, while both aid in bowel movement, laxatives are milder and purgatives act more aggressively.

When should I use a laxative?

Laxatives are typically used for mild to moderate constipation or to promote regular bowel movements.

Can I use laxatives regularly?

It's best to use laxatives as directed and not for prolonged periods, as long-term use can lead to dependency or other issues.

Can laxatives cause side effects?

Yes, if misused or overused, laxatives can cause side effects like diarrhea, dehydration, or imbalances in the body.

What are common side effects of purgatives?

Purgatives can lead to dehydration, cramps, and rapid loss of electrolytes.

Is it possible to become dependent on purgatives?

Yes, frequent use of purgatives can lead to bowel dependency and disrupt natural bowel function.

How do laxatives work?

Laxatives can work in several ways, including softening stools, drawing water into the intestines, or stimulating bowel movements.

Is it safe to take purgatives during pregnancy?

It's crucial to consult a healthcare provider before using purgatives during pregnancy, as some may not be safe.

Are there natural laxatives?

Yes, foods like prunes, figs, and high-fiber foods can act as natural laxatives.

Are there natural purgatives?

Certain herbs and remedies, like senna and cascara, have purgative properties.

Are purgatives safe for frequent use?

Purgatives, due to their strong action, should be used with caution and not frequently to avoid side effects like dehydration.

Can I become dependent on laxatives?

Yes, prolonged or excessive use of laxatives can lead to a dependency where the bowel struggles to function naturally without them.

How can I choose between a laxative and a purgative?

The choice depends on the desired outcome and the severity of the constipation; consult a healthcare professional for the best recommendation.

Can children use laxatives?

Some laxatives are safe for children, but always consult a pediatrician before giving any medication to children.

Are purgatives recommended for children?

Generally, purgatives are not the first choice for children and should only be used under medical supervision.

How do purgatives function?

Purgatives work by causing rapid and sometimes forceful bowel movements, often through stimulating the intestines or increasing fluid secretion.

Can I take a laxative while pregnant?

Some laxatives may be safe during pregnancy, but always consult a healthcare provider before use.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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