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    Laxatives are used to treat constipation—the passage of small amounts of hard, dry stools, usually fewer than three times a week. Before recommending use of laxatives, differential diagnosis should be performed. Prolonged constipation may be evidence of a significant problem, such as localized peritonitis or diverticulitis. Complaints of constipation may be associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Use of laxatives should be avoided in these cases. Patients should be aware that patterns of defecation are highly variable, and may vary from two to three times daily to two to three times weekly.

    Laxatives may also be used prophylacticly for patients, such as those recovering from a myocardial infarction or those who have had recent surgery, who should not strain during defecation.

    Laxatives are also used to cleanse the lower bowel before a colonoscopy or similar diagnostic procedure.

    Source: The Gale Group. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed.";

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