GoLytely (Polyethylene Glycol 3350 and Electrolytes) - Oral

What Is GoLytely?

GoLytely (polyethylene glycol 3350 and electrolytes) is an oral prescription drug used in adults before a colonoscopy. It can also be taken before a barium enema X-ray. An enema is an injection of liquid into the rectum through a small tube.

GoLytely is in a drug class called osmotic laxatives. It works by causing watery diarrhea to clear stool from the intestines so that the colon becomes clear enough to be seen in a procedure. GoLytely contains electrolytes, which prevent dehydration from fluid loss while the bowel is emptied.

GoLytely is available as a powder that is mixed with water.

Drug Facts

Generic Name: Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) 3350 and Electrolytes

Brand Name(s): GoLytely

Drug Availability: Prescription

Administration Route: Oral (must be mixed with water first)

Therapeutic Classification: Osmotic laxative

Available Generically: Yes

Controlled Substance: N/A

Active Ingredient: Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) 3350 and Electrolytes

Dosage Form(s): Powder that is mixed with water before consuming

What Is GoLytely Used For?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved GoLytely for use in adults to cleanse the bowels before a colonoscopy or barium enema X-ray exam.

How to Take GoLytely

If you are prescribed GoLytely, read the prescription label and the information leaflet that comes with your medication. Consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions.

Follow your healthcare provider's instructions on what you can eat or drink while taking GoLytely. Before you take GoLytely (as well as during and after your doses), drink lots of clear liquids such as water, broth, black coffee, clear soda, Gatorade, and tea.

Before taking GoLytely:

  • Do not eat or drink anything with pulp (such as orange juice) or anything red or purple.
  • Do not eat frozen fruit or fudge bars.
  • Do not drink GoLytely if it has been less than 60 minutes since you last ate solid food.

Use GoLytely precisely as directed by your provider. The following are general guidelines for how to take it:

  • The powder must be mixed with water before consumption.
  • Do not use fruit juices or other drinks; do not add flavorings or artificial sweeteners, such as sugar or honey.
  • Shake the mixture well before you measure a dose. Drink it in the exact amount specified in your prescribing instructions.
  • Take GoLytely two to four hours after you last ate solid food.
  • Do not take any other laxatives while taking GoLytely. Do not take oral medications within one hour of starting GoLytely or while taking GoLytely.
  • You should begin having watery stool bowel movements within about one hour after drinking GoLytely. Continue taking your medication until you have consumed all doses prescribed by your healthcare provider.

You should stop taking GoLytely and get medical help if you:

  • Have a seizure or symptoms of dehydration (such as vomiting or dizziness) ( if this happens, contact your healthcare provider right away)
  • Experience symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as itching, hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling around the face, lips, tongue, or throat
  • Have severe bloating or stomach pain

Do not eat or drink anything starting two hours before your procedure (or longer if your healthcare provider tells you).

Storage

Before mixing, store GoLytely at room temperature (between 68 F and 77 F), away from light, heat, and moisture. Once the solution is mixed with water, store the bottle upright in the refrigerator. (GoLytely tastes better if it is refrigerated after being mixed.)

Do not freeze GoLytely. Discard any of the mixture you have not consumed within 48 hours (or less, if specified on the label). Keep GoLytely out of reach of children and pets to prevent accidental consumption.

Off-Label Use

Healthcare providers may prescribe this medication for off-label uses, meaning for conditions not specifically indicated by the FDA.

In some cases, healthcare providers may prescribe polyethylene glycol 3350 and electrolytes for chronic constipation.

How Long Does GoLytely Take To Work?

GoLytely usually induces bowel movements within about four hours of taking it. Continue taking all prescribed doses.

What Are the Side Effects of GoLytely?

This is not a complete list of side effects, and others may occur. A healthcare provider can advise you on side effects. If you experience other effects, contact your pharmacist or a healthcare provider. You may report side effects to the FDA at www.fda.gov/medwatch or 800-FDA-1088.

Common Side Effects

Common side effects include:

Severe Side Effects

Call your healthcare provider immediately if you have serious side effects. Call 911 if your symptoms feel life-threatening or if you think you’re having a medical emergency. Serious side effects and their symptoms can include the following:

  • Hypersensitivity reaction or anaphylaxis (symptoms can include rash, hives, swelling around the lips, tongue, and face, and difficulty breathing)
  • Severe electrolyte imbalance (symptoms may include headache, dizziness, confusion, fatigue, nausea, muscle cramps or weakness, and frequent urination)
  • Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Seizures
  • Kidney problems
  • Ischemic colitis (inflammation of the large intestine or colon due to lack of blood flow)
  • Sores in the colon

Older adults may also experience the following:

  • Stomach bleeding
  • Esophageal perforation (a severe condition where saliva, liquids, and food can spill into the chest cavity or stomach)
  • Asystole (when the heart stops pumping; this often leads to death)

Report Side Effects

GoLytely may cause other side effects. Call your healthcare provider if you have any unusual problems while taking this medication.

If you experience a serious side effect, you or your healthcare provider may send a report to the FDA's MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting Program or by phone (800-332-1088).

Dosage: How Much GoLytely Should I Take?

Drug Content Provided and Reviewed by IBM Micromedex®

The dose of this medicine will be different for different patients. Follow your doctor's orders or the directions on the label. The following information includes only the average doses of this medicine. If your dose is different, do not change it unless your doctor tells you to do so.

The amount of medicine that you take depends on the strength of the medicine. Also, the number of doses you take each day, the time allowed between doses, and the length of time you take the medicine depend on the medical problem for which you are using the medicine.

  • For cleansing of the colon:
    • For oral dosage form (powder for oral solution):
      • Adults—240 milliliters (mL) every 10 minutes. The first dose is usually taken early in the evening on the day before your medical test.
      • Children—Use and dose must be determined by your doctor.

Modifications

GoLytely should be used with caution in people with kidney problems or who take medications that can affect the kidneys. It's crucial to stay hydrated before, during, and after taking GoLytely. Your healthcare provider might perform lab tests to monitor your kidney function.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding. Your healthcare provider will determine whether GoLytely is an appropriate drug to use.

Missed Dose

Consult your healthcare provider if you cannot finish all of the prescribed medication. If the bowel is not completely clear, your procedure may need to be rescheduled.

Overdose: What Happens If I Take Too Much GoLytely?

What Happens If I Overdose on GoLytely?

If you think you or someone else may have overdosed on GoLytely, call a healthcare provider or the Poison Control Center (800-222-1222).

If someone collapses or isn't breathing after taking GoLytely, call 911 immediately.

Precautions

Drug Content Provided and Reviewed by IBM Micromedex®

It is important that your doctor check you closely to make sure this medicine is working properly. Blood and urine tests may be needed to check for unwanted effects.

Contact your doctor right away if you have decreased urination, dizziness, headache, or vomiting. These could be symptoms of a loss of too much body fluid (dehydration).

Contact your doctor right away if you have any changes to your heart rhythm. You might feel dizzy or faint, or you might have a fast, pounding, or uneven heartbeat. Make sure your doctor knows if you had a heart rhythm problem, including QT prolongation.

This medicine may increase your risk for seizures. This is more likely to occur if you take medicine for depression, if you are withdrawing from alcohol or benzodiazepine use, or if you have low sodium level in the blood (hyponatremia). Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

This medicine may cause serious bowel problems (eg, colon ulcers, ischemic colitis). Check with your doctor right away if you have stomach pain and tenderness, bloody stools, or rectal bleeding.

Keep yourself hydrated before, during, and after using this medicine. Drink extra fluids so you will pass more urine. This may help prevent kidney problems.

This medicine may cause serious allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis and angioedema, which can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention. Tell your doctor right away if you have a rash, itching, hoarseness, trouble breathing or swallowing, or large, hive-like swelling on the face, eyelids, lips, tongue, throat, hands, legs, feet, or genitals after using this medicine.

Do not take other medicines unless they have been discussed with your doctor. This includes prescription or nonprescription (over-the-counter [OTC]) medicines and herbal or vitamin supplements.

What Are Reasons I Shouldn't Take GoLytely?

GoLytely is not appropriate for everyone. You should not take this medication if allergic to polyethylene glycol 3350 or any inactive ingredients in GoLytely. 

You should also not take GoLytely if you have:

  • Fluid or electrolyte abnormalities
  • Intestinal perforation (a hole in the stomach, large bowel, or small intestine)
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) obstruction (a blockage that prevents food or liquid from going through the intestine)
  • Gastric retention (a condition where the stomach does not properly empty)
  • Ileus (when the colon cannot move to eliminate food and waste from the body)
  • Toxic megacolon (a rare, life-threatening inflammation of the colon)

GoLytely may be prescribed with caution in some people only if the healthcare provider determines it is safe. This includes if you:

  • Have severe ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease that causes inflammation, ulcers, or sores in the digestive tract)
  • Take medications that can harm the kidneys
  • Have kidney problems or are at risk for kidney problems
  • Are over age 60
  • Have a history or risk of seizures
  • Are at risk for arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
  • Have an impaired gag reflex (the gag reflex prevents you from choking; when the gag reflex is impaired, it does not work properly)
  • Are at risk for aspiration (when food, liquids, saliva, or vomit accidentally enters the airways)

GoLytely is not approved for use in children under two years old.

What Other Medications Interact With GoLytely?

Tell your healthcare provider about all of the medications you take, including prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and vitamins or supplements. 

Use GoLytely with caution if you have an existing health condition, take certain medications that increase the risk for electrolyte disturbances, or take medications that can heighten the risk of kidney problems, seizures, irregular heartbeat, or other heart rhythm disorders. Examples of these can include:

Any oral medications should be taken within one hour before GoLytely is started. This is because GoLytely can affect how other drugs work in the body. GoLytely should not be used with other laxatives.

Other drug interactions may occur with GoLytely. Consult your healthcare provider for a complete list of drug interactions.

What Medications Are Similar?

GoLytely is known as a bowel prep, used to prepare and cleanse the bowel for a procedure such as a colonoscopy. Other prescription medications used for bowel prep include:

  • Clenpiq (sodium picosulfate, magnesium oxide, citric acid)
  • MoviPrep (polyethylene glycol, electrolytes, sodium ascorbate, ascorbic acid, potassium chloride, sodium chloride, sodium sulfate)
  • NuLytely (polyethylene glycol, electrolytes, potassium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride)
  • OsmoPrep tablets (sodium phosphate)
  • Plenvu (polyethylene glycol, electrolytes, sodium ascorbate, ascorbic acid, sodium sulfate, sodium chloride, potassium chloride)
  • Suprep (sodium sulfate, potassium sulfate, magnesium sulfate)
  • Sutab tablets (sodium sulfate, magnesium sulfate, potassium chloride)

Some healthcare providers recommend OTC medications for bowel prep, such as bisacodyl, Miralax, or magnesium citrate.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is GoLytely used for?

    GoLytely cleans and prepares the bowel for a colonoscopy or barium enema X-ray exam.

  • How does GoLytely work?

    GoLytely works by causing watery diarrhea so that the colon is clear enough to be examined during a procedure. It also contains electrolytes to help prevent dehydration.

  • What drugs should not be taken with GoLytely?

    GoLytely should not be used with other laxatives or medicines that can cause seizures or kidney problems; these include certain blood pressure or antidepressant drugs, diuretics, or NSAIDs. Before taking GoLytely, tell your healthcare provider about all the medications you take and ask when you should take them in relation to when you start GoLytely and your procedure. Any other oral medications should be taken within one hour before beginning GoLytely.

  • How long does it take for GoLytely to work?

    You should start to experience diarrhea within about four hours of starting GoLytely. Continue to take all of the prescribed doses as directed by your healthcare provider.

  • What are the side effects of GoLytely?

    Common side effects of GoLytely include bloating, abdominal fullness, nausea, and stomach cramping.

How Can I Stay Healthy While Taking GoLytely?

It is important to take it GoLytely precisely as directed so you can properly cleanse the bowel for your procedure.

Your healthcare provider will give you a list to advise you on which foods and drinks to eat and which to avoid. Follow the instructions carefully and ask your healthcare provider if you are unsure.

Make sure to stay hydrated while taking GoLytely. Drink plenty of clear fluids, such as water. You can drink Gatorade but avoid red or purple colors.

You may experience anal irritation from using the bathroom frequently. Applying Vaseline or Desitin as needed or using soft, unscented toilet paper can help soothe the area. Do not use wipes with chemicals. Purchase these items ahead of time; once you start taking GoLytely, you'll want to be at home and close to a bathroom.

Medical Disclaimer

Verywell Health's drug information is meant for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a healthcare provider. Consult your healthcare provider before taking any new medication(s). IBM Watson Micromedex provides some of the drug content, as indicated on the page.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Polyethylene glycol-electrolyte solution (PEG-ES).

  2. DailyMed. Label: GoLytely- polyethylene glycol 3350, sodium sulfate anhydrous, sodium bicarbonate, sodium chloride, potassium chloride powder, for solution.

  3. Nakajima A, Shinbo K, Oota A, et al. Polyethylene glycol 3350 plus electrolytes for chronic constipation: a 2-week, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with a 52-week open-label extension. J Gastroenterol. 2019;54(9):792-803. doi:10.1007/s00535-019-01581-x

  4. Prescribers’ Digital Reference. Polyethylene glycol 3350/potassium chloride/sodium bicarbonate/sodium chloride/sodium sulfate - drug summary.

  5. Epocrates. GoLytely.

By Karen Berger, PharmD
Karen Berger, PharmD, is a community pharmacist and medical writer/reviewer.