Death by Pepto-Bismol®?


generic aspirinWe’ve all heard that heartburn might actually be a heart attack, right?  And hopefully we all know, if you think you could be having a heart attack, you should chew one regular strength aspirin (not enteric coated) for 30 seconds.  Doing this may just save your life, and it may also ease your chest pain.  And of course call 9-1-1, don’t drive yourself!

Pepto-BismolBut did you know Pepto-Bismol® could also ease the pain of a heart attack?  Well we didn’t.   Well it can!  Had we known, it would have changed the course of events the week of Bill’s heart attack and we would have sought medical attention much, much sooner.  In fact, we would likely have prevented his heart event.

Bill had burning pain in his chest after dinner one night that felt like heartburn, a condition he rarely experienced.  He swallowed a dose of Pepto-Bismol® and Voila! the pain disappeared.  The following night, we had the same series of events but the pain was a little worse.  We theorized maybe acid-reflux had irritated the lining of his esophagus a bit.  Now this next part should have been a clue that this was not ordinary heartburn.  We were now completely out of Pepto-Bismol® and Bill was afraid to be without it in case the pain returned.  So at around 11pm, instead of going to bed we went out to the 24 hour pharmacy.

The next morning we exercised, which for Bill was at least an hour workout that included 10 or 15 minutes of hard pumping on an exercise bike and 3 or 4 sets of 25 pushups and he was totally fine.  We stopped on the way home at Whole Foods to pick up some groceries and shortly after arriving he said the heartburn was back.  We had the smoothie bar make him something cold thinking it might be soothing, while I grabbed some natural remedies from the store that I hoped might help.  By the time I returned to him sitting on the stool at the smoothie bar, he was once again smiling and pain free.

That night we had dear friends over for dinner and he had no pain the entire evening (I guess the social aspect was calming?) but the following night the scenario returned.  The pink stuff worked as usual and we went to bed.  But Bill woke me in the wee hours, clearly filled with anxiety, saying the Emergency RoomPepto-Bismol® wasn’t working.  He chewed an aspirin and we headed for the hospital.  This is where our story began, as you may have read in The Beginning.  A couple of hours later Bill had a stent placed in his left anterior descending artery (the “widowmaker”) and we were told he had had a heart attack right there in the emergency room.

I can hardly believe now how both foolish and lucky we were.  We didn’t call 9-1-1, but instead I drove him to the emergency room.  We did everything WRONG!  We were so convinced it was just heartburn.  Why?  Because he had no other symptoms–no pain in the arms or shoulders, no nausea or claminess, no crushing feeling in his chest, no pain while exercising.  And especially because the pain went away with Pepto-Bismol®!   His only symptom up until that morning was the feeling of heartburn.  We wrongly reasoned that Pepto-Bismol® surely would not ease the pain of a heart event.

Pepto-Bismol® contains bismuth subsalicylate, which is a derivative of salicylic acid.  Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid.  According to WebMD “Salicylates are chemicals found naturally in plants and are a major ingredient of aspirin and other pain-relieving medications.”

And the web site for Pepto-Bismol® says the original liquid formula contains 525 mg of bismuth subsalicylate in each 30 mL Dose Cup or 2 Tablespoons, which is the amount of salicylate in 260 mg of aspirin.  A regular strength aspirin is 325 mg, so as you can see, a single dose of Pepto-Bismol® is nearly the equivalent of a regular aspirin!  The maximum strength liquid Pepto-Bismol® contains 1050 mg of bismuth subsalicylate in a single dose!

It seems this information is not common knowledge, so we hope you will share it with others.  It would certainly have changed our course of events, and could easily save someone else’s life.

The National Institute of Health provides this list of products that contain Bismuth Subsalicylate:

Peptic Relief®
Pink Bismuth®
Stomach Relief®

Also keep in mind there are other products that contain aspirin, such as Alka-Seltzer (a single dose contains 325 mg).

10 thoughts on “Death by Pepto-Bismol®?

  1. Interesting information! I have heart issues in my family and lately I’ve been having severe heartburn which I’ve never had before in my life and I’m 63 but protocol bismol really works … hmmm maybe a trip to emerg next time instead though!

    1. Good idea! At 63 and heart issues in your family, maybe a good time to get checked over by a cardiologist. If you do go to the emergency room, please don’t drive yourself! As Bill’s heartburn got worse, it started hurting in his upper back. You can also have pain in the arm and neck. Best wishes to you!

  2. We had a similar thing where my husband took tons of pepto for weeks for heart pain thinking it was heart burn. However both aluminum and bismuth both in pepto bismol are also clotting agents if applied to a bleeding wound. Does anyone know if they can cause internal clotting?

    1. Caren that is a excellent question. I did a little research and it seems there is more concern about bleeding than from clotting when taking Pepto Bismol. I also went to and put in warfarin along with Pepto Bismol to check for interactions and see if there were concerns that Pepto Bismol would weaken warfarin’s ability to thin the blood, but actually it said the opposite. I’m guessing that if aluminum and bismuth encourage clotting, the bismuth subsalicylate negates it. Hope your husband is doing well now!

  3. Thanks for all the info it is also news to me and i will keep a watch on all the heartburn we both get …. Great Job!!!

  4. This is such a valuable nugget of information! I never would have thought that an event could be so sneaky! You always imagine it will make itself known without a shadow of a doubt. Makes you rethink brushing off your symptoms.

  5. Julie, that is great information! Something I did not know, and I am sure that is the case for most people. Thanks for posting! Keep up the good work!

    1. Being on a low fat diet I have gotton so that I can’t eat a fat filled meal for dinner without a so called heart burn problem at bed time. My solution is to drink a large glass of fat free milk. It knocks me out and stops the acid reflux because it has no fat in it. I was aware of the antacid danger so thia was my solution . It is rare that I eat the kind of food the causes a problem but as most do every now and then I fall off the wagon as the alcholics like to say. Doug

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