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Pepto-Bismol May Rescue Wedding Guest

If you need to control the odor of intestinal gas temporarily, Pepto-Bismol can be a big help. Don't use it every day.

If you have ever suffered from stinky gas, you may be relieved to learn that a common OTC medicine, Pepto-Bismol, can help. You may think of it for food poisoning or travelers’ diarrhea (Digestive Diseases and Sciences, July 2021). While it can certainly be useful in those situations, it also can cut down on unwanted odors. Here is one reader’s report.

Pepto-Bismol as a Solution for Smelly Gas:

Q. You have written about solutions for smelly gas, but you didn’t mention Pepto-Bismol. I have found that when flatulence is bad after eating lots of lentils or beans, PB solves the odor problem.

It does turn my stool black, but I understand that is to be expected.

Bismuth to the Rescue:

A. Pepto-Bismol contains bismuth subsalicylate. Researchers report that it “can be useful in the control of excessive colonic fermentation and flatulence” (Revista de Gastroenterologia del Peru, Jan-Mar. 2007).

There is additional research to support your favorite remedy.

A study published in the journal Gastroenterology (May, 1998) notes that

“Hydrogen sulfide [H2S] is one of the main malodorous compounds in human flatus…The ability of bismuth subsalicylate to dramatically reduce H2S could provide a clinically useful means of controlling fecal and/or flatus odor…”

Cautions About Pepto-Bismol:

People should not take Pepto-Bismol longer than the label recommends, though (two days). A condition called bismuthism, while rare, is worrisome. It can cause confusion, unsteadiness, mouth ulcers, nausea, rash, diarrhea and kidney problems. A black stool should not alarm you, however.

Wedding Dilemma Might Respond to Remedy:

Q. I cannot talk to anyone about this embarrassing problem, not even my doctor. Some days I experience bouts of flatulence that are so smelly that I cannot bear to go out in public.

My niece is getting married next month and I would dearly like to go to the wedding. But I am so afraid that I would spoil the event, for me and those around me, that I am considering bowing out. Is there anything I can do to control the odor?

A. Your doctor has surely heard far more embarrassing questions than yours. Please discuss this with him/her to rule out any serious digestive problems. Make sure they consider the medications you are on to review possible interactions with Pepto-Bismol. Bismuth subsalicylate can reduce gas odor up to 95 percent. You shouldn’t use Pepto-Bismol daily, but it could be very helpful for a special event like your niece’s wedding.

Pepto-Bismol and Black Tongue:

Q. I use Pepto Bismol occasionally for stomach cramps. It turns my stools black within a day.

Recently, I used a generic product. To my surprise, it turned my tongue black. Thank goodness, that went away in about 24 hours.

A. Bismuth subsalicylate, the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol, can react with the sulfur in your mouth to form bismuth sulfide. This black compound may coat your tongue (making it black) or turn up in your stool (also black).

As a side effect of taking bismuth, it is harmless. The black color should disappear within a few days of stopping the medicine.

Don’t take Pepto-Bismol for an extended time, though. A recent article by Dr. Lisa Sanders illustrates the dangers of excess bismuth.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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  • Brum JM et al, "Systematic review and meta-analyses assessment of the clinical efficacy of bismuth subsalicylate for prevention and treatment of infectious diarrhea." Digestive Diseases and Sciences, July 2021. DOI: 10.1007/s10620-020-06509-7
  • Léon-Barúa R et al, "[The high fermentative capacity of colonic bacteria in the origin of flatulence and its sensibility to bismuth subsalicylate]." Revista de Gastroenterologia del Peru, Jan-Mar. 2007.
  • Suarez FL et al, "Bismuth subsalicylate markedly decreases hydrogen sulfide release in the human colon." Gastroenterology, May, 1998. DOI: 10.1016/s0016-5085(98)70311-7
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