Taking Your Medicine Safely: 3 Key Considerations

Pharmacists with mortar and pestle

There will be a time when you might have difficulty swallowing your medicines. Some patients may open up the capsules, try and dissolve it in a glass of water, attempt to cut up the medicine and make it smaller, crush their medicine and mix it with food or some might decide not to take their medicine at all! But don't be in a rush to crush! To make sure you're taking medications safely, keep the following points in mind:

1. Medications come in many different forms and can be quite complex in how they are made. Most tablets are designed to dissolve and release their medicine over a specific period of time. The coatings on the outside of tablets and the formulation of the medicine have a purpose. That formulation could be to dissolve and release medicine slowly into your body over a longer period of time. Generally when someone crushes a tablet it breaks that special formulation and all of the medicine is released over 5 to 10 minutes instead of slowly.

2. Some tablets or capsules are designed to release the medicines quickly after taking them and crushing or opening them might be okay. However, if your medicine is designed to release medicine slowly, crushing or cutting it up could cause you to receive all of the medicine at once. This might not seem like a bad thing except that you could experience serious side effects. This may prevent your medicine from working properly and it could cause you to be sicker longer.

3. You should never crush a tablet or open a capsule without first checking that it is safe to do so. The simplest way to check is to read the medication information that you received or call your pharmacist or doctor to find out if you can crush your medicine. If you still have difficulty swallowing your medicine, call your doctor and they will prescribe another form of medicine that should be easier to swallow.

Elizabeth Schar, RPh, is the Pharmacy Services Distribution Manager at SwedishAmerican Hospital.