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Generic Name

docusate (DOC u sate)


Trade Name

Surfak (50mg, 100mg)
Colace is available in a Syrup and Liquid form.
This drug is available in an over-the-counter form.


What is docusate?

Docusate is basically a detergent that is not absorbed by the body. It encourages the mixture of water and dietary fat within the stool, making the stool softer. It does not hold water like some bulking agents nor does it stimulate the bowel like laxatives.


What is it used for?

Docusate is most beneficial when hard stools occur and especially when they are difficult or painful to pass. This drug is not particularly helpful when infrequent stools or constipation develop. Docusate is not a laxative.


How do I take it?

Follow your physician’s instructions carefully. Drink a glass of water with each dose. The liquid may be given in milk, fruit juice or infant formula to mask the taste. Higher doses are recommended for initial therapy and then the dosage can be adjusted to the individual’s needs. The effect is usually seen 1 to 3 days after the initial dose. Store in a tightly closed container at room temperature. Keep all medications away from children. Never share your medications with anyone else.


What do I do for a missed dose?

If you miss a dose of this medicine, take it as soon as possible. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and return to your regular schedule. Do not double up on this medication.


Are there interactions with food or beverages?

There are no known interactions with food or beverages. An increase in fluid intake is recommended for better results.


Are there interactions with other drugs?

An interaction generally means that one drug may increase or decrease the effect of another drug. Also, the more medications a person takes, the more likely there will be a drug interaction. Do not take docusate along with mineral oil unless directed by your physician.


Is there a problem if I have another disorder or disease?

At times, a drug may have a different or enhanced effect when other diseases are present. At other times, the drug may worsen or effect another disease. Fiber should not be used if there is a suspicion of a chronic bowel obstruction unless discussed with the physician. It is also best to temporarily restrict fiber after abdominal surgery and when there is a flare-up of chronic bowel disorders such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.


What about allergies?

People who have known allergies or asthma may be at an increased risk for a reaction from any new medication. The physician should always know a patient’s allergy history. Signs of an allergic reaction are skin rash, hives and itching. Of course, a person should not take docusate if there has been a previous reaction to this or a similar drug.


What if I’m pregnant, considering pregnancy or breast-feeding?

Most females now know that, if possible, no drug, including alcohol, should be taken during pregnancy or lactation. The potential danger, of course, is an injury to the baby. However, some drugs are much safer than others in this regard. So, the FDA has a grading system for each drug which reflects what is known medically. It ranks drugs from A, where medical studies show no evidence for danger to the fetus or mother, to B, C, D and X, where the medical evidence indicates that the risk to the fetus outweighs any benefit to the mother. Docusate is ranked C. Constipation can be a problem during pregnancy. Generally, it is safe to increase fiber either with food or psyllium. Docusate is a chemical; therefore, its use should be discussed with your physician. Always consult your physician before taking any drug during or when planning pregnancy.


What are the effects on sexual function?

There are no known adverse effects of docusate on sexual function.


Are there other precautions?

  • Always take docusate with plenty of fluids. Do not use docusate if you have difficulty swallowing.
  • Contact your physician if constipation persists for more than a week with regular use of a bulk laxative or if rectal bleeding occurs.


How long is it safe to take docusate?

Docusate is not habit-forming and is safe for long-term use.


How about side effects?

Adverse reactions can occur with any drug, even over-the-counter medications. Some of these are mild such as a stomach upset, which may be avoided by taking the medication with food. Minor reactions may go away on their own but if they persist, contact the physician. For major reactions, the patient should contact the physician immediately.

For docusate, the following are the observed side effects:

Minor :

  • nausea
  • mild abdominal cramps
  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • rumbling sounds

Major :

  • severe abdominal pain
  • vomiting


A physician’s comment…

Hard pellet stools usually reflect a condition called diverticulosis or simple chronic constipation. An increase in dietary fiber is usually the first and, often, the only thing that needs to be done. Docusate, while not increasing stool bulk like fiber, can soften hard stool pellets. When that is the only problem, this drug can be helpful.