The National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) has issued guidance for England and Wales over the correct use of the drugs, which are also known as bowel cleansing solutions.
Many patients are prescribed laxatives before they undergo bowel examinations or surgery, but their use between November 27 2003 and January 6 2009 resulted in hundreds of patient safety incidents and one death.
A total of 90% of the incidents resulted in low or no harm to the patient but the rest caused moderate or severe problems.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has also recieved reports of 11 'fatal outcomes' as a result of prescribed laxatives and another 44 indicating dehydration due to laxatives between 1963 and 2005.
The NPSA said a review into the incidents found one patient had been inappropriately prescribed a laxative when they already had a known bowel condition, and another was under-prescribed a laxative drug prior to a colonoscopy examination
Another patient safety problem highlighted was that patients were not been given clear instructions on taking their laxative at home which meant they suffered dehydration.
Related articles on nursingtimes.net: Laxatives