Cathartic

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

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Overview

In medicine, a cathartic is a substance which accelerates defecation.

This is in contrast to a laxative, which is a substance which eases defecation, usually by softening the stool.[1] It is possible for a substance to be both a laxative and a cathartic. However, agents such as psyllium seed husks increase the bulk of the stool.[2]

Cathartics such as sorbitol are sometimes used in response to poisoning.[3]

As an adjective, cathartic means psychotherapeutic, healthful, emotionally beneficial; releasing; emotionally purging: viewing art or listening to music may be a kind of cathartic experience.

In general cathartics are;

  1. causing emptying of the bowels.
  2. an agent that empties the bowels.
  3. producing emotional catharsis.
  • bulk cathartic one stimulating bowel evacuation by increasing fecal volume.
  • lubricant cathartic one that acts by softening the feces and reducing friction between them and the intestinal wall.
  • saline cathartic one that increases fluidity of intestinal contents by retention of water by osmotic forces and indirectly increases motor activity.
  • stimulant cathartic one that directly increases motor activity of the intestinal tract.

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