How Safe Is Using Pepto-Bismol for IBS?

Review the Side Effects You Should Know About

In This Article

Many people turn to Pepto Bismol (or Kaopectate) as their go-to medicine when they have an upset stomach or are experiencing diarrhea. These may occur more frequently if you have IBS and you may be inclined to use Pepto Bismol to alleviate IBS symptoms, but as with all medications it is good to be educated about safety and potential side effects.

Safety Tips for Taking Pepto-Bismol
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

What Is Pepto Bismol Commonly Used For?

Pepto Bismol is primarily used for the short-term treatment of the following digestive symptoms in adults and children aged 12 and older:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomach upset
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Excessive intestinal gas
  • Excessive burping
  • A feeling of fullness caused by eating too much
  • Discomfort from drinking too much alcohol

Interestingly, researchers have found that when Pepto Bismol is combined with antibiotics it can be quite effective in treating H. pylori, an infection that has been linked to peptic ulcers and gastritis.

How Pepto Bismol Works

The scientific name for Pepto Bismol is "bismuth subsalicylate." Bismuth is a mineral that has antibacterial, antacid, and antidiarrheal effects. Subsalicylate is a medication from the same class as aspirin. The active ingredients of Pepto Bismol are thought to have the following actions within the body:

  • Increasing the amount of fluid that is absorbed in the intestines, therefore firming up stool
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Calming intestinal spasms
  • Reducing the population of disease-causing bacteria and/or viruses
  • Reducing excess levels of stomach acid

Is Pepto Bismol Safe?

Pepto Bismol is considered to be quite safe for short-term use by adults and children who are age 12 or over. When used properly, the only side effect may be a temporary and harmless blackening of the tongue or of the stool. In some cases, the medication may work too well, with constipation as a result.

Pepto Bismol is only recommended for use for a two-day period. That, therefore, makes it a poor choice as a treatment for people who experience chronic diarrhea, common in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It also makes it a poor choice for people who experience chronic heartburn or acid reflux from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Serious side effects of Pepto Bismol are rare, but not unheard of. For the elderly, any resulting constipation may lead to a bowel blockage. For children and teenagers, as Pepto Bismol is in the aspirin family, the biggest risk associated with the medicine is the development of Reye's syndrome, a potentially life-threatening illness. This risk is particularly high for those who have chicken pox, influenza (the flu), or any other type of viral infection.​

However, there is a product for children called Pepto Kids. It does not contain bismuth subsalicylate and thus does not carry the same risk as Pepto Bismol. Pepto Kids is designed to treat heartburn and upset stomach in children.

Who Should Not Take Pepto Bismol?

Pepto Bismol should not be taken by anyone who:

  • Is younger than 12 years of age
  • Has the flu
  • Has a fever and signs of blood in the stool
  • Has chickenpox or has received the chicken pox vaccination within the past six weeks
  • Is pregnant
  • Is breastfeeding
  • Is allergic to aspirin or NSAIDs

Before taking Pepto Bismol it is essential that you clear it with your doctor, as the medication may interact with other medications that you are taking, particularly some medications for diabetes or gout, blood thinners, and certain antibiotics.

How to Take Pepto Bismol

Pepto Bismol is an oral medication that comes in liquid, tablet, or chewable form. Follow the directions and dosing recommendations on the product packaging carefully. You do not need to take the medication with food. Do not take Pepto Bismol for more than two days. Be sure to drink plenty of water while taking Pepto Bismol to replace fluid lost from diarrhea episodes.

You should contact your doctor immediately and stop taking Pepto Bismol if you experience:

  • Ringing in the ears
  • Diarrhea that lasts for more than two days
  • Severe vomiting
  • High fever
  • Any signs of an allergic reaction

If you think you have taken an overdose or are experiencing any severe symptoms, seek immediate attention by calling an ambulance.

A Word From Verywell

Although it may be tempting to take Pepto Bismol to address your IBS symptoms, remember that it is only recommended for a maximum of two days. Thus, it is best only for short-term symptoms, and long-term use may enhance side effects. When you're experiencing chronic symptoms, work with your doctor to find a better solution.

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