The idea of taking medication, for some, is quite literally a hard pill to swallow. In fact, one in three people may gag, choke or even vomit when trying to swallow a pill. Some people have genuine swallowing disorders called dysphagia, which can make it difficult or even impossible for them to swallow medication, foods and liquids.
For most people, however, issues related to swallowing pills are not due to an actual physical condition but based on a fear, such as a fear of gagging or choking or concerns that the pill will get stuck in their throat.
“Typically a pill is more likely to result in gagging or get stuck in your esophagus if you’ve tried to swallow it without enough liquid,” said Megan Jones, director of outpatient pharmacy for Samaritan Health Services. “The good news is that your esophagus provides plenty of room to accommodate even the biggest pill your doctor has prescribed for you.”
“Just think of all the large bites of food you’ve ingested in your lifetime – those are often far bigger than a pill,” said Jones. “Although a pill may seem to you to be too large to swallow, just remember that if you can swallow food, you can also swallow pills.”
Two Techniques That Can HelpIf you struggle taking medicine, knowing your body is equipped to swallow pills is one thing, knowing your body will actually do so is another. There are a couple tricks identified by German researchers at the University of Heidelberg that might make it easier for you to take your medicine.
- Fill a plastic bottle with water.
- Place the pill on your tongue and close your lips tightly around the opening of the water bottle.
- Take a drink while using a sucking motion and swallow the pill and water.
Lean Forward Method
- Place the pill on your tongue.
- Take a sip of water.
- Tilt your chin down towards your chest and then swallow the pill.
The study of 151 adults found that both methods showed marked improvements in swallowing pills, including 59.7% using the pop-bottle method and 88.6% using the lean-forward technique.
“In addition to the bottle and lean forward methods, you can also try putting the pill in food, like applesauce, which can make it easier to swallow,” said Jones.
While you may be tempted to crush your pill before adding it to your food to get around swallowing it entirely, Jones cautioned that you should talk to your doctor or pharmacist before doing so.
“For some medication, crushing it or grinding it down is not an option. It can lead to the medication not working properly,” said Jones. “For example, crushing a medication that is supposed to be time-released will lead to the dose being administered all at once.”
Additionally, some medication has a protective coating and should never be crushed because the coating helps protect your stomach from being irritated and it can keep the drug from being impacted by stomach acids. These medications are often labeled as enteric coated.
Expedite the Time to EffectivenessNow that you’ve mastered taking your medicine, did you know there are steps you can take to ensure it works quickly?
Using a computer model dubbed StomachSim, which mimics what occurs inside the stomach as it digests food and medicine, a recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University determined that how your body is positioned after you’ve taken medication impacts how quickly it dissolves and takes effect.
Four body positions were tested, including:
- Standing or sitting upright.
- Lying on the back.
- Lying on the right side.
- Lying on the left side.
The results? Researchers found that if you lie on your right side after taking medication, it will reach your stomach the quickest and dissolve in an average of 10 minutes.
If you remain upright or flat on your back, it takes 23 minutes for the medication to dissolve, and it will take more than100 minutes if you are lying on your left side.
Next time you pick up your medicine, don’t hesitate to talk with your pharmacist about the best way to take it.