Pepto-Bismol Isn't For Kids

If you were born before the year 2000, chances are good that you grew up taking Pepto-Bismol whenever you had an upset stomach. It was the go-to medication of my childhood; I remember the bubblegum chalk taste well. 

It turns out, however, that the famous pink liquid is not quite as safe for kids as we used to think. Although it is still frequently given to children (despite warnings on the label not to give it to kids under 12 or those with chicken-pox or flu-like symptoms), many times it shouldn't be.


Similarities to Aspirin

Pepto-Bismol contains salicylates, which are a derivative of acetylsalicylates, which are in aspirin. There is a link between aspirin and a very serious illness known as Reye syndrome. This serious and sometimes fatal condition most often affects children who have had a viral illness such as the flu or chicken pox and have been given aspirin or products that contain aspirin. 

Because Pepto-Bismol contains an ingredient that is related to aspirin, it should not be given to a child who has or has recently had a viral illness, a cold or a fever. 

The exact link between aspirin and Reye's isn't clear. There has been a dramatic decrease in the number of cases since people stopped routinely giving aspirin to children so we know there is a connection even though we don't know exactly what that connection is. 

The makers of Pepto-Bismol include on the label that it should not be given to children under the age of 12.

Many health care providers feel it shouldn't be given to teens either because the risk for Reye syndrome still exists. 

What You Can Do Instead

If your child is sick or has an upset stomach, rather than giving him Pepto-Bismol or another medication, try giving bland foods or drinks such as water or Gatorade.

Avoid sugary, carbonated beverages and greasy or spicy foods. 

The BRAT diet is good for almost everyone that is dealing with an upset stomach, vomiting or diarrhea. 

If your child is vomiting, make sure to let his stomach rest for at least 15 - 20 minutes before trying to get him to drink anything. 

If the vomiting is uncontrollable even after you try to suggestions above, the vomit is green or red (like blood) or there are clear signs of dehydration, seek medical attention. If you aren't sure what to do for your child's symptoms, always contact your health care provider. 

Don't assume a medication or treatment is safe just because it's something you experienced as a child.

What About Children's Pepto?

To make things slightly more confusing, Pepto-Bismol now offers a product called Children's Pepto, which does not contain salicylates. It is approved for children over the age of 2 and it's active ingredient is calcium carbonate (which is also the active ingredient in other chewable antacids - such as Tums). Children's Pepto does not carry the risk for Reye syndrome and is safe for children, although it may or may not help with those upset stomachs.


If your child has frequent or recurring stomach complaints, be sure to contact her health care provider for further evaluation. 


"Pepto-Bismol FAQ's". Pepto Bismol. 2015. Proctor & Gamble. 22 Apr 15. 

"Reye Syndrome". KidsHealth 2015. Nemours Foundation. 24 Apr 15. 

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