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FDA warns of laxative dangers after reports of deaths

The US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning this week to those who use over-the-counter laxatives to help ease constipation. These products “are potentially dangerous if dosing instructions or warnings on the Drug Facts label are not properly followed or when there are certain coexisting health conditions,” stated the FDA on their website. The agency has received dozens of reports of serious side effects, including 13 deaths, associated with the use of sodium phosphate laxatives like Fleet or generic versions of the phospho-soda or enema product.

Consumers should follow instructions and only use these laxatives—swallowed as a liquid or used as an enema—as a single dose, once a day. The products shouldn’t be used for more than three consecutive days.


“Equally important, consumers who do not have a bowel movement after taking an oral or rectal dose should not take another dose of the product,” the FDA stated. It can cause dehydration by drawing water into the bowel.

The FDA recommended that adults over age 55 and anyone with kidney disease, heart problems, or signs of dehydration should check with their doctor before using a Fleet product because they could be an increased risk of dangerous side effects.

Laxatives associated with fewer health risks include psyllium, a soluble fiber, mineral oil, or methylcellulose (another plant fiber) and glycerin suppositories.

Deborah Kotz can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.