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Can't Swallow Pills? Try These 2 Methods

Woman about to swallow capsule

If you have trouble swallowing pills, you’re not alone.

An estimated 40 percent of U.S. adults have experienced problems downing their medicine, according to a survey earlier this year by Harris Interactive. Some have even skipped a dose or stopped taking their medicine as a result. And women are twice as likely as men to have trouble.

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It’s also something people are embarrassed to talk about: Only 10 percent told their doctors about the problem, the survey found.

But now German researchers say they may have come up with the best techniques for getting a pill — either a tablet or capsule — to slip smoothly down the throat.

In a study published in the Annals of Family Medicine, about 150 adults, ages 18 through 85, who had reported trouble swallowing pills were given two methods to try — the “pop-bottle method” and the “lean-forward method.”

Here’s how they work.

Pop-Bottle Method

This method, which helped nearly 60 percent of subjects, aids people in swallowing large tablets. Fill a flexible plastic water or pop bottle with water. Put the tablet on your tongue, and then clamp your lips tightly around the opening of the bottle. Drink water from the bottle as you tilt your head back, and the pill should go down easily. Remember to keep your lips tight around the opening, and don’t allow air to get into the bottle as you swallow.

Lean-Forward Method

This method, for people who find swallowing large capsules difficult, was even more effective, helping nearly 90 percent of subjects. Put the capsule on your tongue and take a medium sip of water. Then tilt your chin toward your chest and swallow with your head bent forward.

Why the difference in methods? According to lead researcher Walter Haefeli, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Heidelberg, capsules are light and float in the mouth, which is why head position matters. By tilting your head forward, the pill floats toward your throat.

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For tablets, which are denser and heavier, “it is necessary to focus on flushing the medicines into the pharynx,” the tube that links the mouth to the esophagus, he told the British newspaper the Guardian. The shape of the tablets did not critically matter, he added, “but in most of our experiments the classical round tablet appeared to perform worst.” Oval ones are better.

If you need to see people actually trying these methods, NPR's The Salt got three of its reporters, all self-professed pill haters, to try them. Click here to see them using each method, and the results.

Photo: mermaidb/iStock

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