We know medicine should make you better, but if you pop your pills incorrectly, it can have a different effect. No matter if you have regular, everyday therapy or you take pills to relieve a headache occasionally, you should never split them in half.
There are many different shapes and sizes of medicines in tablet, pill or capsule form. This is to make sure that the drug is released at the right speed into the body at the right location e.g. the mouth, stomach or intestines. The speed of release of the drug is controlled by the ingredients within the tablet which either hold it together or help it to break up easily. These coatings have a wide range of ways of working.
Generally, when crushing a tablet or opening a capsule, the whole dose is released over 5 to 10 minutes. Some tablets or capsules are designed to release the medicines quickly after taking them, and crushing or opening them should not cause any significant problems.
However, if your medicine is designed to release the medicine slowly, crushing or opening it could result in an initial overdose (and a higher chance of side effects) followed by a period without medication. Before doing so, you should always check with your pharmacist to see if it is appropriate.
Pharmacists also add that you should not rely on the fact that some pills have scoring lines on them. These do not automatically make a pill safe to split and by no means give you a permission to split them before taking them.
Split only those pills in whose instructions for use is clearly stated that splitting and chewing is allowed and safe.
Often, you can identify drugs that should never be crushed just by looking at the name. Many gradual-release medicines have names that end with:
- CD – controlled dose
- SR – sustained release
- CR – controlled release
- TD – time delayed
- ER – extended release
- TR – time released
- LA – long acting
- XL – extended release
- SA – sustained action
- XR – extended release
Beware though! Other letters may be used to mean gradual release or may indicate some other property of the drug. In fact, some pills that should not be crushed or chewed may not have any letters at the end of their names. We do have a tool on our website that lists drugs that should never be crushed (or split in two or more pieces).
If there is no other alternative, crushing tablets is normally advised by your doctor. For example, he can tell you whether you should:
- dissolve the medicine in water
- sprinkle the medicine over food
- take any precautions to avoid inhaling the powder