Pepto-Bismol can be just the thing to make a short-lived stomach bug or upset stomach more manageable.
But if you're relying on the pink liquid to keep gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in check more often than not, is that a problem?
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Here, learn if it's bad to take Pepto-Bismol every day, how much is too much and when to see your doctor for GI issues that won't go away.
First, What's in Pepto-Bismol?
Pepto-Bismol contains the active ingredients bismuth and subsalicylate. Together, they work to clear GI infections faster and soothe a sour stomach, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Bismuth: This chemical element works as an antiseptic to help fight off diarrhea caused by stomach bugs.
"Most acute cases of diarrhea are caused by a short-lived bacterial or viral infection in the GI tract," says Aditya Sreenivasan, MD, a gastroenterologist at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"Your body usually does a good job of clearing these infections within 24 to 72 hours, but bismuth can help shorten the length of symptoms," he adds.
Bismuth also directly curbs diarrhea by reducing the amount of liquid secreted by the small intestine and increasing water absorption in the colon, making stools firmer, per the NIH.
Subsalicylate: This anti-inflammatory works a lot like aspirin. "It helps improve cramps and abdominal pain," Dr. Sreenivasan says.
Long-Term Effects of Taking Pepto-Bismol Every Day
In general, regularly taking Pepto-Bismol to settle your stomach isn't harmful. As long as you follow proper dosing instructions on the label, it's overall considered safe, per the National Library of Medicine (NLM).
That said, a daily dose of Pepto may not be the best idea for a couple reasons.
1. It Could Mask a Larger Problem
If you find yourself needing to take the pink liquid for more than a few days, "it's likely you have an underlying issue that needs the attention of a doctor and some more definitive treatment," Dr. Sreenivasan says.
You could be dealing with stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease or gallbladder or bile duct issues, he says. The only way to know for sure, though, is by seeing your doctor.
2. Large Doses Can Be Dangerous
Additionally, there are some side effects of Pepto-Bismol itself to consider. In some people, even a single dose of Pepto can potentially cause mild nausea, a bitter taste in your mouth, a black tongue and black stool, per the National Health Service (NHS).
"These aren't dangerous," Dr. Sreenivasan notes, but can definitely be alarming if you're not expecting them. (You can avoid the black tongue by brushing your teeth and tongue well after each dose, especially if you take a dose before going to sleep, he adds.)
In rare cases, excessive doses (i.e., taking more than the label says) of bismuth salicylate can cause toxicity, with symptoms including the following, per the NLM:
- Impaired cognition
If you experience any of the above symptoms after taking too much Pepto-Bismol, call your doctor and visit the nearest emergency room for medical attention.
Who Should Not Take Pepto-Bismol?
Children under 12 should not take Pepto-Bismol. "It can cause Reye's syndrome — a life-threatening emergency that can cause symptoms such as seizures," Dr. Sreenivasan says.
Other warning signs of Reye's syndrome include the following, per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS):
- Persistent vomiting
- Personality changes like irritability or combativeness
- Disorientation or confusion
You should also avoid taking Pepto-Bismol if any of the below apply to you, per the NLM:
- You have a GI ulceration (cut) or bleeding disorder
- You have a GI condition that already causes black or bloody stools
- You're taking certain medications like anticoagulants (blood thinners), sulfinpyrazone (for gout), probenecid or methotrexate (for arthritis)
So, How Often Should You Actually Take Pepto-Bismol?
Healthy adults who have stomach discomfort or diarrhea can take 524 milligrams of Pepto-Bismol every 30 minutes to 1 hour as needed, or 1,050 milligrams every hour for up to two days, according to the NLM.
Don't exceed 4,200 milligrams over the course of two days. Instead, contact your doctor if you're still experiencing symptoms.
Alternatives to Pepto-Bismol
Fortunately, Pepto-Bismol isn't the only remedy for an upset stomach.
For mild indigestion, bloating, cramping, nausea or diarrhea, you've got other options, including:
1. Give Your Stomach a Break
Stick with light, bland foods that won't irritate your stomach, like crackers, bananas, toast, clear broth, white rice or plain potatoes. You can also try to avoid dairy, spicy foods or anything that's fatty or fried, per the American Academy of Family Physicians.
2. Apply Some Gentle Heat
3. Try an Herbal Remedy
Ginger and peppermint tea can quell a queasy stomach, per the Cleveland Clinic. And herbs like licorice (which can be found in tea blends) could even help reduce gas.
So, How Bad Is It Really to Take Pepto-Bismol Every Day?
Taking Pepto-Bismol for a few days in a row or even a week likely won't hurt you. (You may experience mild side effects like black tongue or stool, though.)
But if you need it every day for lengths of time, there's a good chance you have an underlying stomach issue that needs to be addressed.
Talk to your doctor if you're unsure about your Pepto-Bismol use, and whether you can take it if you have a GI condition.
"Because GI symptoms are usually short-lived, if a person's symptoms are lasting longer than a week, it's likely there's some issue going on that needs to be diagnosed and treated," Dr. Sreenivasan says.
Visit your doctor or the nearest emergency room if you experience other GI symptoms (regardless of whether you take Pepto-Bismol or not) including abdominal pain accompanied by fever, nausea or vomiting; blood in your stool, urine or vomit; abdominal swelling or tenderness; pain throughout your body or shortness of breath.
- National Library of Medicine: "Bismuth Subsalicylate"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "BRAT Diet: Recovering From an Upset Stomach"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Abdominal Pain"
- NIH: "Bismuth Subsalicylate"
- Northwell Healthcare: "Aditya Sreenivasan, MD"
- NHS: "Side Effects of Pepto-Bismol"
- NINDS: "Reye's Syndrome"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.