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Tips for Taking Tablets

Kathy Matthews, PharmD Candidate 2011
University of Maryland School of Pharmacy
and
Consumer Health Information Corporation

 

If you have ever had problems swallowing your medicines, you are not alone. Almost half of Americans say they have problems swallowing pills. Most of these people never talk about it with their doctor or pharmacist. For people who have trouble taking pills, there are some tricks that can help make your medicine go down more smoothly.

 

Did You Know That You Should:

  • Stay upright
    • You should stay standing up for at least a minute and a half after taking any tablet or capsule. If you are not able to stand, you can sit up straight. This allows gravity to help move the pill down your throat and into your stomach.
    • Avoid lying down right after you take a pill. Laying down makes it easier for the medicine to get stuck to the inside of your throat. When this happens, the tablet or capsule can start to break apart before it reaches your stomach. This could mean you are not getting as much of your medicine as you should. Or even worse, the medicine could damage the inside of your throat.
    • Most people cannot feel when medicine is stuck in their esophagus (the tube that connects to your stomach). It is important to remain upright even if you do not feel like pills are getting stuck.  
  • Drink plenty of fluids
    • Always drink plenty of water when you swallow a pill. It takes about a half a cup of fluid to help your body move the medicine down your esophagus and into your stomach. If you feel like the medicine is not moving down, try drinking more fluid to help it along.
    • Some medicines have very special instructions, such as taking them first thing in the morning on an empty stomach with a full glass of water, and then staying upright for 30-60 minutes. Be sure to discuss with your pharmacist whether your medicines have any special instructions.

 

  • Tilt your head
    • If you are swallowing a tablet, take a drink of water and tilt your head backward before swallowing. This way the tablet sinks to the bottom of the water and gets washed down by it. This usually works for capsules too.
    • Sometimes capsules are lighter than water. Some people find it is helpful to lean forward before swallowing capsules. This way the capsule will float up in the water, and then get washed down by it.

 

Overcoming your gag reflex

Some people find it difficult to swallow pills because of their gag reflex. Here are some surefire steps to “teach” yourself how to swallow a pill.

 

  • Start small. Practice with small ice chips, or small candies like cake decorations, Tic-Tacs, or M&Ms.
  • Build up. Once you feel comfortable with the smallest candies or ice chips, gradually build up to the size of the medicine you need to take.
  • Drink plenty of water. Taking a few small sips of water before you take the pill can help to moisten a dry mouth and throat, and reduce sticking.
  • Try swallowing the pill along with food. Mix it in with a little peanut butter, put it in some cheese, or put it alongside a small piece of bread on your tongue. Swallowing the pill with food may feel more natural.
  • Try the two-gulp method. Place the capsule or tablet on your tongue. Get a mouthful of liquid. Take two gulps of liquid in a row without a pause in between. On the first gulp, swallow some of the liquid. On the second gulp swallow more liquid, along with the pill.

 

If all else fails

If you still cannot swallow a tablet or capsule, there are some other options.

 

  • Sometimes a tablet can be crushed or a capsule can be opened. It can then be sprinkled on food such as applesauce, yogurt, or jelly. Check with your pharmacist to make sure there are no interactions before doing this.
  • A word of caution: Some medications are designed to be released over a long period of time. Crushing or opening these types of medications can result in dangerously high levels of the medicine in your body. This is another reason to check with your pharmacist before crushing tablets or opening capsules.

 

Try these tips the next time you are having problems swallowing your medicine. If you are still having problems, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about it.

 

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