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Movicol (macrogol)

Updated 04.04.2022
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Movicol is an over-the-counter sachet or oral solution used to treat constipation. This is for short-term and long-term relief of any severity of constipation, from mild to moderate or severe. The main active ingredient is macrogol 3350, as well as sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate and potassium chloride, which all play a part in the medication’s mode of action. It comes in several flavours and is sugar-free. It usually comes as sachets that you make up with water or a flavoured drink, and doses can be adjusted as needed, according to how many sachets you take. Movicol is a brand name for the generic name of macrogol.

Doctor’s advice

Who is it for?

It’s for short-term relief of constipation when other treatments have not worked. You should first try simple measures like incorporating fruit, vegetables and foods high in fibre into your diet, increasing your exercise and drinking plenty of water. Fybogel sachets should be your first option when moving on to specific constipation products. If you’ve had no luck with any of these measures, Movicol or lactulose are your next options and work in similar ways. It is also suitable in pregnancy and breastfeeding and, unlike lactulose, can be used in diabetics. It's suitable for all ages and agrees with most medication. It's one of the preferred laxatives if you have constipation related to strong opioid painkillers, such as co-codamol, codeine or morphine. This should be taken primarily instead of trying Fybogel or other constipation products. It is suitable for both short term, and long term use, however, long term use should be through the direction of your doctor. It’s a preferred choice for children, and parents can learn to increase doses as needed if their child suffers from long-term constipation. Those aged under 12 will require this to be prescribed by their doctor, and it's not suitable for those under the age of 1 year.

How does it work?

Movicol is a synthetic molecule that works as an osmotic laxative, meaning – in broad terms – it draws water into the small intestine, early on in the digestive system while stool moves along. This helps stool on its way by making it softer and easier to pass. In the later part of the intestine, normal gut bacteria work alongside to encourage more water to be drawn into the bowel, further encouraging bowel movements. The sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate and potassium chloride are all there to support the electrolyte balance, which is why it’s a more suitable choice in the long-term, compared to lactulose. As Movicol relies on drawing water out of other parts of the body and into the bowel, you need to make sure you're drinking plenty of water to ensure it's working at its best and that you don't get dehydrated.

Any reason to avoid it?

Caution is advised if you’re taking medication for high blood pressure, as it can interfere with this, due to changes in your electrolyte balance. You should avoid Movicol if you have galactosaemia or any holes or perfusions in the intestines. Also, discuss this with your doctor first if you suffer from inflammatory bowel conditions, as this may not be suitable. For children under the age of 12, a paediatric strength sachet should be used, which is prescription-only.

Are there any side effects?

Most people get on very well with Movicol, however some people may experience side effects, including abdominal pain, diarrhoea, flatulence, nausea and vomiting. These are normally caused by the fermentation process in the gut. An electrolyte imbalance may cause severe diarrhoea or vomiting, feeling more tired than usual, shortness of breath, swollen ankles, feet or legs (oedema), or muscle weakness which would require urgent medical attention.

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