Can I use expired Pepto-Bismol?

Pepto-Bismol is a common over-the-counter medication used to treat upset stomach, heartburn, indigestion, and diarrhea. It contains the active ingredients bismuth subsalicylate and has a shelf life of about 2 years.

Many people wonder if Pepto-Bismol is still safe and effective to use after it has expired. Here is a look at whether or not you can use expired Pepto-Bismol.

Is it safe to take expired Pepto-Bismol?

In most cases, expired Pepto-Bismol is still considered safe to take even after the expiration date has passed. Medications like Pepto-Bismol typically have rather long shelf lives and the expiration date is very conservative.

The active ingredients in Pepto-Bismol, including bismuth subsalicylate, are very stable. Even years after the expiration date, the medication will likely maintain nearly the same level of potency and safety profile.

Of course, it is always ideal to use Pepto-Bismol before its expiration date for maximum effectiveness. But taking expired Pepto-Bismol that is even a few years past its date is unlikely to cause any harm or safety issues.

Risk of degradation

The main risk with taking a medication like Pepto-Bismol after its expiration date is degradation of the active ingredients. Over time on the shelf, the potency of the medication slowly declines.

This means that while expired Pepto-Bismol won’t become toxic, its effectiveness at treating your symptoms could be reduced the longer it has been expired.

Will expired Pepto-Bismol still work?

In most cases, expired Pepto-Bismol retains its effectiveness and can still provide symptom relief after the expiration date has passed.

One study tested Pepto-Bismol up to 5 years past its labeled expiration date. Even after 5 years, the medication maintained over 90% of its original bismuth subsalicylate concentration indicating only minimal degradation.

However, it’s impossible to make a blanket statement about how effective expired Pepto-Bismol will be. Effectiveness will depend on:

  • How long past expiration the Pepto-Bismol is
  • How it was stored
  • The severity of your symptoms

A Pepto-Bismol bottle that is 6 months past expiration, properly stored in a cool, dry place will likely be nearly as effective as a non-expired bottle. However, a bottle that is 5 years past expiration and improperly stored in heat or humidity may have reduced effectiveness.

Effectiveness for different symptoms

Expired Pepto-Bismol retains effectiveness best for minor to moderate digestive symptoms like:

  • Mild diarrhea
  • Mild heartburn, indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach

It may be less effective at fully relieving more severe symptoms. So for a severe stomach bug with heavy vomiting or diarrhea, expired Pepto-Bismol should be used cautiously or avoided.

Are there risks with long-term use after expiration?

While short-term use of expired Pepto-Bismol is low risk, ongoing use after expiration is not recommended.

Over time, the concentration and efficacy of the medication gradually decreases. This means longer-term use of expired Pepto-Bismol may not adequately treat your symptoms.

There are also some concerns that degradation products or increased levels of impurities could form in the medication over time after expiration. So continuous use of expired Pepto-Bismol substantially increases the risks.

Safest duration of use after expiration

Based on stability data and the very conservative expiration dates, the following guidelines are generally considered safe:

  • Use up to 1 year past expiration date: Safe in most cases
  • Use up to 2 years past expiration date: Less ideal, but still considered low risk for short-term use in adults
  • Use more than 2 years past expiration date: Not recommended

For maximum safety, limit use of expired Pepto-Bismol to no more than a few days at a time with at least a few weeks before taking it again.

Does Pepto-Bismol expire?

Yes, Pepto-Bismol does expire and has an expiration date printed on the bottle or box. The typical shelf life is around 24 months or 2 years.

However, expiration dates are very conservative. Pepto-Bismol maintains its safety and efficacy for well beyond 2 years. While it may slowly lose some potency over time, it does not suddenly become ineffective or dangerous after the expiration date.

How to tell if Pepto-Bismol is expired

To determine if your Pepto-Bismol is expired, check the expiration date printed on the:

  • Bottle label
  • Outer packaging
  • Individual foil packs

The expiration date will be preceded by “Exp” and typically displayed in MM/YYYY format. Do not use if this date has passed.

Also look for any changes to the color or texture of the medication that may indicate it is unfit for use. Expired Pepto-Bismol may appear darker and more opaque.

Does expired Pepto-Bismol need to be disposed of?

Expired medications should always be disposed of properly rather than simply thrown in the trash. However, Pepto-Bismol has a very favorable safety profile.

If your Pepto-Bismol is recently expired and you want to use it, there is very low risk in doing so. But it is still ideal to properly dispose once finished rather than saving substantially expired bottles.

Safe disposal tips

To safely dispose of Pepto-Bismol, there are a few recommended methods:

  • Bring to a medication take-back program or DEA-authorized collector
  • Mix with unappealing substance like cat litter in a sealed bag or container before throwing away
  • Mix expired oral medications with water and put down the sink

Avoid flushing medications down the toilet or drain unless specifically instructed by the label.

Can you still use Pepto-Bismol tablets or liquid?

Pepto-Bismol is available as chewable tablets, caplets, and liquid. Expired Pepto-Bismol can still be used regardless of the dosage form.

The same general guidelines and safety precautions apply to expired Pepto-Bismol tablets or liquid. Both can typically be used over 1 year past expiration if properly stored.

Look for any color changes in the liquid or tablet coating and bitterness in the tablets that may indicate substantially degraded medication. But in most cases, all forms retain effectiveness beyond the labeled expiration date.

Liquid vs. tablets

Pepto-Bismol liquid may have a slightly shorter effective shelf life than tablets or caplets after expiration. This is because the liquid has higher water content.

But both dosage forms are very stable. As long as they are stored properly, there is minimal difference between taking expired tablets versus liquid.

Does Pepto-Bismol have to be refrigerated after opening?

Pepto-Bismol does not need to be refrigerated after opening. Both tablets and liquid can be safely stored at room temperature.

In fact, the manufacturer recommends not refrigerating Pepto-Bismol. Extreme temperature fluctuations from moving it into and out of the refrigerator can hasten degradation.

Once opened, Pepto-Bismol liquid and tablets can be stored in a cool, dry place away from excess heat and moisture. Avoid storing in the medicine cabinet in humid bathrooms.

Maximizing shelf life after opening

To maximize the shelf life of opened Pepto-Bismol, follow these storage tips:

  • Store bottles tightly sealed
  • Keep away from direct sunlight
  • Avoid storage above 86°F (30°C)
  • Do not freeze

With proper storage after opening, Pepto-Bismol lasts about 2 years – the same as its unopened expiration date. Refrigeration provides no benefit.

The bottom line

It is generally considered low risk to use expired Pepto-Bismol, especially if it has been properly stored and is not more than about 1 year past its expiration date. While it may have slightly reduced potency, expired Pepto-Bismol maintains nearly the same safety profile.

To be cautious, only use expired Pepto-Bismol if you have mild symptoms and limit to short-term use. Always inspect for changes in color, consistency, appearance, or bitterness before using. Stop use and seek medical care if symptoms worsen.

Going forward, purchase Pepto-Bismol in small quantities you can use before expiration. And always keep the medication in a cool, dry, dark place to maintain its shelf life and effectiveness.

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