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What Is Senna Laxative?

How Often Can You Take Senna Laxative?

Dr. Christina Darakjian Profile Photo

Written by Dr. Christina Darakjian on August 27, 2021

Medically reviewed by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology

When it comes to laxatives, Senna is a very common option that can be highly effective for treating constipation short-term.

Like most laxatives, it is important to use Senna laxatives properly, and it is not recommended to use laxatives consistently for long periods of time.

Aside from treating constipation, Senna laxatives may also be used to:

  • Treat irritable bowel syndrome with constipation
  • Treat hemorrhoids
  • Help prepare the colon for rectal surgery
  • Ease painful bowel movements from anal fissures

Senna may be a safer laxative option than some other commercially available products, but it is still important to build a strong understanding of this type of laxative so that you know what you are putting into your body and how it works. Let’s get into it.

What is Senna?

Senna is an herb with flowers and leaves that can be used to make clean OTC medicine, and senna fruit may be gentler than senna leaf for laxative purposes.

Senna can be used for a few different purposes, but the most common use for senna is as a laxative to treat constipation. Taking senna orally can be highly effective in regards to constipation, and it is FDA-approved for use by adults and children who are at least 2 years old.

Aside from treating constipation, senna is possible effective for preparing bowels before a colonoscopy, and may be as effective as castor oil. Senna is seen as effective because it contains chemicals called sennosides, and these chemicals irritate the lining of the bowel, thus causing a laxative effect.

Because senna is a more natural approach to laxatives, it is generally regarded as largely safe, and may be a safer alternative to other commercially available products.

What Precautions Should Be Taken Before Using Senna Laxatives?

Although senna is FDA-approved and regarded as safe, any laxative generally should not be taken long term. When taken in very high doses for long periods of time, the risk of adverse effects increases, but this may be true for most OTC medicines and laxatives.

Long term use or misuse of laxatives can interfere with your bowel function, and may even cause your bowels to stop functioning normally, leading to dependence on laxatives.

You should always consult your doctor before trying any new medicines, and you should especially speak with your doctor if you are dealing with any of the following conditions:

  • Blockages in your bowel
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Stomach or intestinal problems
  • A sudden change in your bowel habits that has lasted for more than 2 weeks
  • Vomiting
  • History of unusual or allergic reactions to senna, other medicines, foods, dyes, preservatives, or certain artificial ingredients
  • Pregnancy or plans to conceive
  • Breastfeeding
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Dehydration, diarrhea, or loose stools
  • Heart disease
  • Diagnosed or undiagnosed abdominal pain or stomach inflammation

Informing your doctor about any health issues you are dealing with will allow them to give you the best advice possible as well as determine whether or not a senna laxative is the right choice for you. In any event, your doctor will be able to steer you in the right direction in terms of necessary medications, and even if senna is not the right choice for you your doctor will be able to suggest an alternative.

Plus, if you are dealing with any kind of health concern that you cannot get to the bottom of on your own, your doctor can help you get a proper diagnosis so that you can proceed and find the right treatment path.

Proper Use of Senna Laxatives

Proper use of senna laxatives, and of any laxative or other OTC medicine, is critical to staying safe and healthy. When senna laxatives are used properly, they pose no significant health risks to you.

In most cases, proper usage instructions will appear on the label of the medicine, but if you have any doubts or concerns, you should contact your doctor and get a professional opinion.

It is generally recommended to take senna laxatives before going to bed so that it can start working overnight, but you should follow your doctor’s directions carefully if they differ from general guidelines.

When it comes to proper dosages, most senna laxatives only call for one dose per day, and may offer relief in just 6-12 hours, especially if the product has been designed to provide relief overnight while you are asleep. The proper dosage amount will differ depending on the patient, and age is a major factor that affects what dosage is recommended.

If you have a child who is struggling with constipation and you are not sure what kind of OTC medicine or laxative to offer them, looking for a senna laxative specifically geared towards children may be a good place to start, especially because senna is largely regarded as a gentle alternative to other, more extreme laxative products.

Children tend to have much more sensitive digestive systems than adults, which means that medicines intended for use by adults may not be suitable for children in the same way. Thus, products that have been designed with children in mind may be the best options when it comes to easing your little one’s discomfort.

Senna Dosages

Whether you or your child are using a senna laxative, you should take care to ensure that the proper dose is not exceeded, and you should read the label carefully to ensure that you are abiding by the recommended dosages.

The usual dose of senna is one tablet every 6-12 hours depending on the brand, and the dose may be halved or reduced even further in children depending on their age. The specifics really depend on the exact product that you have chosen to use, which is why it is important to read the label on every bottle even if you have used senna before. Different brands have different formulations, and it is always best to play it safe and proceed with caution.

If you have been instructed to use a senna laxative regularly for acute symptoms and you happen to miss a dose, you should try to take the missed dose as soon as possible so as to promote regularity in your digestive system.

That said, if your missed dose has passed by to the point where it is almost time for your next dose, take that next dose and do not worry about the missed one -- in fact, make sure not to double up on doses in an attempt to account for the missed dose, because this could cause trouble.

Whenever you have uncertainties about when you should take your next dose, it is important to call your doctor before going ahead and taking a dose. Taking too much of any OTC medicine in too short of a time period can result in adverse effects, and may be dangerous in some cases, so your doctor will advise you in regards to how much medicine you should take and when.

How often you can take senna depends on the product, so you should always carefully follow the instructions on the bottle, or any instructions that your doctor gives you.

The Bottom Line

Senna laxatives are a common method of relieving constipation, and they may also be effective for preparing bowels before a colonoscopy, or easing symptoms associated with hemorrhoids and anal fissures.

Senna is an herb with flowers and leaves that can be used for medicine, and the fruits have been recognized as possibly more gentle than the leaves. Senna is FDA approved for use by children and adults, and as long as it is taken according to the safe usage guidelines, it may be safe.

Like any other laxative or OTC medicine, misusing this product can cause some adverse effects, and using it for too long can take a toll on your digestive system and bowels, resulting in physical dependence on laxatives. People dealing with certain health issues or conditions should consult their doctor before starting to use senna laxatives, and most people should consult their doctor before trying a new medication regardless of if they have health conditions.

How often you should actually take a senna laxative largely depends on the exact product you have purchased, so you should take care to carefully follow the dosage guidelines of that specific product. If anything is unclear, consult your doctor before taking your first dose so that a professional can advise you as to using your medicine safely.

Overall, senna can be highly effective and safe, and children, too, can benefit from this product, although in slightly different doses than those for adults.