Harvard Health Letter

Tips to help the medicine go down

Adding medications to foods and trying new swallowing techniques can help.

Swallowing pills can be difficult and downright unpleasant. It causes one in three people to gag, vomit, or choke. That may keep people from sticking to their medication routines, which can make them sicker. "We often see people who can swallow food and liquid just fine, but have difficulty with pills," says Denise Ambrosi, director of the Speech-Language Pathology Department at Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.

Hope for the pill-challenged

A study published in the November 2014 Annals of Family Medicine suggests two techniques that can help people improve their ability to get medicine down better than the old method of taking a sip of water from a cup and trying to swallow. One, the pop-bottle method, improved people's ability to swallow tablets by 60%. Another, the lean-forward technique, improved swallowing of capsules by 89%. Check with your doctor before trying these techniques. If you're having swallowing problems, there may be something causing the trouble, such as conditions with nerves or muscles that can lead to choking or getting food or liquid into your lungs.

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