Holistic Health Herbal Medicine Print The Health Benefits of Senna This common laxative has been used to treat constipation for centuries By Cathy Wong | Medically reviewed by Richard N. Fogoros, MD | Updated May 18, 2019 In This Article Table of Contents Expand Health Benefits Possible Side Effects Dosage and Preparation Other Questions View All Back To Top Maša Sinreih in Valentina Vivod/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0 More in Holistic Health Herbal Medicine Supplements Aromatherapy & Essential Oils Massage Therapy The herb senna has been used for thousands of years to combat constipation. It is FDA-approved as an over-the-counter stimulant laxative for the treatment of constipation or as a bowel cleanse prior to surgery or diagnostic testing of the digestive tract. Senna's active agent is sennosides, a plant compound in the anthraquinone family. Sennosides work by irritating the lining of the bowel, creating a powerful laxative effect. When taken by mouth, senna typically produces a bowel movement in six to 12 hours, but it can be effective in as little as 10 minutes when taken rectally. Also Known As SennosideSenna glycosideCassia senna Health Benefits Senna is safe and effective for treating constipation in adults and children. The herb is also purported to treat anal fissures and hemorrhoids, and to promote weight loss, though there is limited research to support these claims. Constipation in Adults For treating constipation in adults, senna is effective when used alone or in combination with psyllium or docusate sodium, according to the National Institutes of Health. Constipation in Seniors In elderly patients, senna used with psyllium or docusate sodium is effective for treating ongoing constipation, according to the National Institutes of Health. Constipation in Children The natural laxative is often prescribed for pediatric patients. A 2018 literature review and analysis published in the Journal of Pediatric Surgery found that long-term use of senna appears to be safe for children with chronic constipation, although side effects such as a blistering diaper rash may appear with prolonged skin contact to feces produced from senna. Opioid-Related Constipation For people taking opioid pain relievers, constipation is a common side effect. Senna effectively treats constipation as well as lactulose, psyllium, and docusate sodium in opioid users, notes the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Colonoscopy Prep Senna is often recommended for bowel preparation before a colonoscopy. According to the NIH, when using senna for a bowel cleanse, it is most effective with either polyethylene glycol, sodium picosulfate, or a combination of all three. Possible Side Effects Side effects of senna may include abdominal cramps and pain from muscle contractions, dark or discolored urine, electrolyte imbalance, nausea, rash, and swelling of the fingertips. Prolonged use of senna may lead to dark pigmentation in the colon, called melanosis coli. In large doses and prolonged use, senna has been linked to liver toxicity. The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) recommends that you discontinue use of senna in the event of diarrhea or watery stools. In children who are not toilet trained, senna use is linked to diaper rash with blisters that may be severe. Doctors recommend changing your child's diaper immediately after stooling while taking senna and cleaning the diaper area thoroughly. If your child develops a diaper rash with blisters or cracked skin, call your pediatrician. Senna should not be used for more than seven consecutive days unless under a doctor's supervision. Discontinue use and call your doctor if you experience bloody diarrhea or prolonged abdominal pain after senna use. Contraindications Senna or other anthraquinone-containing herbs should not be used by people with abdominal pain, diarrhea, diverticular disease, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, severe hemorrhoids, blood vessel disease, congestive heart failure, heart disease, severe anemia, abdominal hernia, gastrointestinal cancer, recent colon surgery, liver disease, or kidney disease. The AHPA also recommends that you consult your doctor prior to use if you are pregnant or nursing. Senna may interact with drugs called calcium channel blockers and the drug Indocin (indomethacin). Dosage and Preparation Senna used for medicinal purposes is derived from the leaves and fruit of the senna plant. Senna products made from the fruit are gentler than preparations made from the leaf. Senna comes in tablets and liquid formulations, and is also available as a tea. Dosing varies based on patient age and why senna is being used. Talk to your doctor to find the right dose for you (and do not exceed it). Here are some general guidelines: AGE USE TYPICAL DOSE Adults Constipation 17.2 milligrams (mg) daily; maximum: 34.4 mg twice a day Adults (Postpartum) Constipation 28 mg daily taken in two 14 mg doses Adults (Elderly) Constipation 17.2 mg daily Adults Bowl Preparation 75 mg sennosides taken the day before a colonoscopy; maximum: 150 mg taken as one or two doses Children (2 to 5 Years) Constipation 1/2 tablet (4.3 mg sennosides) daily; maximum: 1 tablet (8.6 mg sennosides) twice daily Children (6 to 11 years) Constipation 1 tablet (8.6 mg sennosides) daily; maximum: 2 tablets (17.2 mg sennosides) twice daily Children (12 years+) Constipation 2 tablets (8.6 mg sennosides per tablet) once daily; maximum: 4 tablets (34.4 mg sennosides) twice daily Other Questions Is senna safe to take every day?While the herb is generally regarded as safe and may be prescribed for everyday use, long-term use may pose concerns. Follow your doctor's recommendations. Will senna give me a stomach ache?Senna works to treat constipation by irritating the lining of the intestines, which stimulates the digestive tract to move stool through it. As such, some people report abdominal cramps after taking senna, which resolves once a bowel movement is complete. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Sign up for our Health Tip of the Day newsletter, and receive daily tips that will help you live your healthiest life. Email Address Sign Up There was an error. Please try again. Thank you, , for signing up. What are your concerns? Other Inaccurate Hard to Understand Submit Article Sources Vanderperren B, Rizzo M, Angenot L, et al. Acute liver failure with renal impairment related to the abuse of senna anthraquinone glycosides. Ann Pharmacother. 2005;39(7-8):1353-7. Willems M, van Buuren HR, de Krijger R. Anthranoid self-medication causing rapid development of melanosis coli. Neth J Med. 2003 Jan;61(1):22-4. Vilanova-Sanchez A, Gasior AC, Toocheck N, et al. Are Senna based laxatives safe when used as long term treatment for constipation in children? J Pediatr Surg. 2018;53(4):722-727. doi:10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2018.01.002. National Institutes of Health. Liver Tox Drug Report: Senna. https://livertox.nih.gov/Senna.htm U.S. National Library of Medicine. Herbs & Supplements: Senna. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/natural/652.html Continue Reading Holistic Health The Health Benefits of Psyllium Holistic Health Health Benefits of Oregano Oil Holistic Health The Health Benefits of Phosphate Holistic Health Using Aloe Vera to Treat Wounds, Diabetes, and IBD Holistic Health The Health Benefits of Witch Hazel Holistic Health Can Vervain Treat Pain, Infection, Seizures, and Cancer? 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