Many people have trouble swallowing pills. Is chewing pills a safe alternative? Find out why this isn’t a good practice – as well as the effects it could have on your health.
Do you have trouble swallowing pills? You’re not alone. Up to four out of every ten people have difficulty swallowing pills and tablets. Some people assume that if swallowing pills and tablets is a problem, it’s okay to chew them instead. Is this true?
Is It Okay to Chew Pills and Tablets?
Chewing pills sounds like an acceptable alternative to swallowing them, but there are some good reasons not to. Some pills and tablets are timed-release, and when you chew or crush these pills the medication is released in one big bolus – which isn’t a good idea. The goal is to maintain steady blood levels of the medication over a twenty-four hour period. This won’t happen if you bite into a timed-release pill or tablet.
Some tablets are enteric-coated, so they aren’t broken down in the acidic environment of the stomach – and are absorbed in the small intestine instead. An example of such a medication is erythromycin. If you chew pills like erythromycin that are enteric-coated, the medication gets broken by stomach acid, and you get less absorption – and fewer benefits. The enteric-coating on tablets also protects the lining of the stomach – so you get less stomach upset.
As you can see, it’s not a good idea to chew pills or tablets that are meant to be swallowed. It reduces their absorption, alters medication blood levels, and causes stomach upset. It’s also not healthy for teeth and gums.
What if You Have Trouble Swallowing Pills?
If you have trouble swallowing pills, rethink how you look at them. Instead of seeing pills and tablets as foreign objects you put in your mouth that could get stuck, think of them as food instead. After all, you swallow larger chunks of food every time you eat.
With a little practice, most people can overcome psychological hang-ups about swallowing pills. Learn to take a deep breath before attempting to swallow a pill, and drink lots of liquid each time. It gets easier with practice.
Chewing Pills: The Bottom Line?
Don’t be tempted to chew pills if you have difficulty swallowing them. Talk to your doctor if you’re having trouble swallowing pills or tablets. Sometimes a medical problem can cause swallowing difficulties – and it’s important to rule these out.
Physician’s Desk Reference. 2010.
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.