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Sorbitol Side Effects

It is possible that some side effects of sorbitol may not have been reported. These can be reported to the FDA here. Always consult a healthcare professional for medical advice.

For the Consumer

Applies to sorbitol: oral liquid

Get emergency medical help if you have any of these signs of an allergic reaction while taking sorbitol: hives; difficult breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.

Stop using sorbitol and call your doctor at once if you have a serious side effect such as:

  • severe stomach cramps;

  • vomiting;

  • severe diarrhea;

  • rectal bleeding;

  • black, bloody, or tarry stools;

  • weakness, dizziness; or

  • frequent urge to have a bowel movement.

Less serious side effects of sorbitol may include:

  • gas, mild nausea or stomach cramps; or

  • rectal irritation.

This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects.

For Healthcare Professionals

Applies to sorbitol: compounding powder, irrigation solution, oral liquid


Gastrointestinal side effects have included sudden severe abdominal bloating, abdominal cramping, vomiting, and osmotic diarrhea.[Ref]


Metabolic side effects have included reports of hypernatremia. These reports have primarily been associated with multiple administrations of activated charcoal sorbitol preparations.[Ref]

One case study describes a 37-year-old patient who presented with phencyclidine intoxication. The patient was given four doses of activated charcoal in sorbitol and 1 dose of magnesium citrate over a 12-hour period of time. Lab results showed an increase in the serum sodium from 138 mmol/L to 165 mmol/L. The hypernatremia continued to worsen after the magnesium citrate was discontinued. It was felt that the increase was due to the repeated sorbitol administration. Other adult cases of hypernatremia secondary to activated charcoal-sorbitol regimens have been reported in the literature.[Ref]


1. Henley E "Sorbitol-based elixirs, diarrhea and enteral tube feeding [letter]." Am Fam Physician 55 (1997): 2084,2086

2. Breitenbach RA "'Halloween diarrhea'. An unexpected trick of sorbitol-containing candy." Postgrad Med 92 (1992): 63-6

3. Krenzelok E "Sorbitol--a safe and effective cathartic [letter]." Ann Emerg Med 16 (1987): 729-30

4. James LP, Nichols MH, King WD "A comparison of cathartics in pediatric ingestions." Pediatrics 96 (1995): 235-8

5. Payne ML, Craig WJ, Williams AC "Sorbitol is a possible risk factor for diarrhea in young children [published erratum appears in J Am Diet Assoc 1997 Oct;97(10):1090." J Am Diet Assoc 97 (1997): 532-4

6. Kneepkens CM, Hoekstra JH "Fruit juice and chronic nonspecific diarrhea [letter; comment]." J Pediatr 122 (1993): 499

7. Johnston KR, Govel LA, Andritz MH "Gastrointestinal effects of sorbitol as an additive in liquid medications." Am J Med 97 (1994): 185-91

8. McNamara RM, Aaron CK, Gemborys M, Davidheiser S "Sorbitol catharsis does not enhance efficacy of charcoal in a simulated acetaminophen overdose." Ann Emerg Med 17 (1988): 243-6

9. Wax PM, Wang RY, Hoffman RS, Mercurio M, Howland MA, Goldfrank LR "Prevalence of sorbitol in multiple-dose activated charcoal regimens in emergency departments." Ann Emerg Med 22 (1993): 1807-12

10. Jessen LM, Barone JA "Ready-mix charcoal/sorbitol [letter; comment]." Ann Emerg Med 21 (1992): 110-1

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