'Magic' constipation pills bought online are 'very risky,' experts warn

Cai Wenjun
Overuse can lead to serious issues like obstruction, as experienced by a woman, 27, who took 100 pills a day and needed extensive care in hospital.
Cai Wenjun

Shanghai medical experts have issued a warning on the risks of taking "magic" medicines or supplements for constipation without a doctor's instruction after a 27-year-old woman suffered severe consequences.

Advised by a friend, the woman tried to fix the constipation by herself by purchasing medicine online. There were good results at the beginning, but the effects weakened after one month, so she increased the dosage.

After six months, she had to take 100 pills a day from only one pill at first. Despite the increased dosage, her constipation didn't improve and she suffered abdominal distension. She became anxious and didn't dare to eat, so her weight dropped to 37 kilograms.

She had to quit her study in Australia and returned to China for treatment at Shanghai 10th People's Hospital.

Dr Li Ning, director of the hospital's colorectal disease and intestinal microecological diagnosis and treatment center, found the woman's intestinal tract had lost its proper function. It was like a loose bag without elasticity and contained a large quantity of excrement, estimated to be over 3 kilograms.

Li said the so-called "magic drug" taken by the woman was bisacodyl, a common ingredient in laxatives. It stimulates the nerves on the intestinal wall and causes intestinal tract movement. But overuse can result in serious problems like obstruction.

Doctors treated the woman by clearing her system and helping her intestines regain their proper function. They also provided nutritional therapy and did a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) involving colonoscopy. The therapy helped rebuild a healthy microbial system and repair intestinal functions.

After an eight-week nutritional treatment program and four FMTs, the woman's weight increased to 45 kilograms and she became "regular" without needing medication. She has resumed her study, hospital officials said.

With the increasing prevalence of such chronic problems, the hospital has established the city's first constipation clinic to help people get intestinal microecological treatment. Doctors said they have seen many patients suffering from worse symptoms due to the abuse of supplements or prescribed medicines.

"People with frequent and long-term constipation should go to hospital for professional help," Li said. "Constipation is not an independent disease, but a problem demanding intestinal microbial renovation, muscle and nerve function treatment and even surgery sometimes."

"It is very risky to purchase so-called magic medicines online," Li warned.

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