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Movicol (macrogol)

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Movicol is an over-the-counter sachet used to treat constipation. This is for short-term or long-term relief of any severity of constipation, from mild to moderate to 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 flavors and is sugar-free. It comes as sachets that you mix with water or a flavored drink, and doses can be adjusted as needed.

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 fiber 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 (by prescription) are your next options and work similarly.

It is also suitable in pregnancy and breastfeeding and, unlike lactulose, can be used in diabetics.

Movicol is suitable for all ages and does not interact with most medication. It's one of the preferred laxatives if you have constipation related to strong opioid painkillers, such as 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 with 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 years will require this to be supervised 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 latter 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 galactosemia 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 pediatric strength sachet should be used.

Are there any side effects?

Most people tolerate Movicol very well; however, some may experience side effects, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, nausea, and vomiting. These are normally caused by the fermentation process in the gut.

An electrolyte imbalance may cause severe diarrhea or vomiting, feeling more tired than usual, shortness of breath, swollen ankles, feet, or legs (edema), or muscle weakness which would require urgent medical attention.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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