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Is There a Role for Bismuth in Diarrhea Management?

Helen Senderovich and Megan Vierhout

Abstract

Diarrhea, an illness of both the developed and developing world, involves the burdensome characteristics of frequent bowel movements, loose stools, and abdominal discomfort. Diarrhea is a long-standing challenge in palliative care and can have a myriad of causes, making symptomatic treatment pertinent when illness evaluation is ongoing, when there is no definitive treatment approach, or when effective treatment cannot be attained. Symptomatic therapy is a common approach in palliative care settings. Bismuth is a suitable agent for symptomatic therapy and can be effectively employed for management of chronic diarrhea. The objective of this narrative review is to examine the role of bismuth in management of diarrheal symptoms. To explore this, PubMed (including Medline) and Embase were used to search the existing literature on bismuth and diarrhea published from 1980 to 2019. It was found that bismuth has potential utility for diarrheal relief in multiple settings, including microscopic colitis, traveler’s diarrhea, gastrointestinal infection, cancer, and chemotherapy. It also has great potential for use in palliative care patients, due to its minimal side effects. Overall, the antisecretory, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties of bismuth make it a suitable therapy for symptomatic treatment of diarrhea. The limited range of adverse side effects makes it an appealing option for patients with numerous comorbidities. Healthcare providers can explore bismuth as an adjunct therapy for diarrhea management in an array of conditions, especially in the palliative care setting.