Skin breakdown and blisters from senna-containing laxatives in young children

Ann Pharmacother. 2003 May;37(5):636-9. doi: 10.1345/aph.1C439.


Background: At the direction of the Food and Drug Administration, phenolphthalein was removed from all over-the-counter laxatives in 1999. Phenolphthalein was then replaced in most laxative products with the natural product senna from Cassia acutifolia Delile, which contains various anthraquinones. No data are available on the safety of senna use in children <6 years of age.

Objective: To describe the clinical outcomes of exposure to unintentional ingestion of senna-containing laxatives in young children.

Methods: All ingestion exposures of senna-containing laxatives in children <5 years of age from 6 poison centers over a 9-month period were evaluated. Inclusion criteria required 24-hour follow-up and the presence of diarrhea to confirm ingestion. Parents were told routinely that severe diaper rash was possible and to protect the perianal area with frequent cleansing and a barrier ointment if the child was wearing diapers.

Results: During the study period, 111 cases were reported: 19 children experienced no diarrhea, 4 were lost to follow-up, and 88 exposures were evaluated. Fifty-two children (59%) were </=2 years old. Fifty children remained in diapers, 28 children were fully toilet trained, and 10 wore diapers (pull-up pants) overnight. Twenty-nine children (33%) experienced severe diaper rash. The mean +/- SD time to recognition of the diaper rash was 15.6 +/- 8.6 hours. Ten children (11%) had blisters and skin sloughing. There was a significant increase in severe diaper rash (p < 0.05) and onset of blisters and skin breakdown (p < 0.05) in children wearing diapers versus those who were fully toilet trained. The mean time to onset of blisters was 14.5 +/- 6.8 hours. Skin burns and loss were seen primarily on the buttocks and perineum, loosely following the diaper area.

Conclusions: Unintentional ingestion of senna-containing laxatives in young children may potentially cause severe diaper rash, blisters, and skin sloughing.

MeSH terms

  • Blister / chemically induced*
  • Blister / pathology
  • Buttocks / pathology
  • Cathartics / adverse effects*
  • Diaper Rash / pathology
  • Diapers, Infant
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Perineum / pathology
  • Senna Extract / adverse effects*
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Skin Diseases / pathology


  • Cathartics
  • Senna Extract