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About Pepto-Bismol

Pepto-Bismol Product Family


A Serious Start

Today, we think of how Pepto-Bismol soothes the digestive system after we've overindulged at a meal. Or, we think of it as a travel companion that can help soothe stomach upsets associated with eating unfamiliar foods in unfamiliar lands. But in its early days, Pepto-Bismol did more than comfort; it actually helped treat an illness that was affecting infants.

The medicine we now call Pepto-Bismol was originally developed at the start of the 20th century, when high standards of hygiene and sanitation weren't as widespread as today. Looking to cure a frightening disease called "cholera infantum," which struck infants suddenly, causing severe diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes death, a doctor concocted a formula in his home that proved effective against these symptoms. The formula (which was different from today's) was made from pepsin, zinc salts, salol, and oil of wintergreen, along with a colorant to make it pink, and he called it Mixture Cholera Infantum. (Researchers would later learn that cholera infantum was caused by a bacterial infection, treatable with antibiotics.)
Pepto-Bismol Vintage Print Ad

Sharing with the World

The invention of what we now know as Pepto-Bismol coincided with other health advances, such as milk pasteurization and public campaigns advocating hand washing. These advances knocked infant diarrhea out of the top spot on the list of causes of death for infants in the United States.

The early success of Pepto-Bismol presented a production crisis for its inventor, who couldn't make enough product in his home to satisfy demand. He brought his formula to what was then called the Norwich Pharmacal Company in Norwich, New York. Norwich Pharmacal had a way to increase production dramatically – by manufacturing it in 20-gallon tubs.

Norwich added the remedy to its catalog for medical professionals, with the product name Bismosal: Mixture Cholera Infantum. Norwich tinkered with the doctor's formula a bit and advertised the improved product as an "elegant, pleasantly flavored" mixture suitable for children because it contained no opiates.

During the 1920s, Pepto-Bismol was sold at drugstore soda fountains. This print ad promoted large bottles with stoppers, from which druggists dispensed single doses.


Pepto-Bismol Today

Over the years, studies found that bismuth subsalicylate is the ingredient that makes Pepto-Bismol work, and that is listed as the active ingredient today.

Bismosal's name was changed in 1919 to Pepto-Bismol. The name change made it easier for Norwich to promote the product for use by adults. As Pepto-Bismol, the product became Norwich's leading nonprescription drug.

Pepto-Bismol came to the Procter & Gamble Company as part of the Company's acquisition of Norwich Eaton Pharmaceuticals in 1982. It's now sold in several countries around the world.

Common Questions
I noticed that Pepto-Bismol sometimes darkens the tongue/stool. Why does this happen and how long does it last?
The active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol contains bismuth. When a small amount of bismuth combines with trace amounts of sulfur in your saliva and gastrointestinal tract, a black-colored substance (bismuth sulfide) is formed. This discoloration is temporary and harmless. It can last several days after you stop taking Pepto-Bismol. Individual bowel habits, your age (the intestinal tract slows down with age), and the amount of the product taken all help to determine how long Pepto-Bismol is in your system.
Can I use Pepto-Bismol if I am pregnant or nursing?
If you are pregnant or nursing, ask a doctor before taking Pepto-Bismol. As with any drug, read the label thoroughly before use.
Is Pepto-Bismol OK for my pet?
Pepto-Bismol is for Humans. Consult with your vet for treatment.
When can I take Pepto-Bismol?
When you are experiencing heartburn, indigestion, nausea, or upset stomach due to overindulgence in food or drink, or diarrhea or traveler's diarrhea. (Use as directed for diarrhea or overindulgence in food or drink.)