Capsules vs. Tablets? Pick the Right Pill

The shape, size, and coating of your meds matter. Here's how to decide what's right for you.

It seems like there are thousands of different formulations for over-the-counter meds these days—gelcaps, quick-dissolve tabs, and more. And those differences aren't just to make them look pretty, said Elsa-Grace V. Giardina, MD, a cardiologist, clinical pharmacologist, and professor at Columbia University Medical Center. Deciding if capsules versus tablets, or other forms of meds is an important decision. Here are some you might see:

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Soft Oil Capsule Fullframe Pattern Macro Shot Directly Above View.
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(such as Advil Liqui-Gels or Claritin Liqui-Gels)

*What they do: Soft, flexible gelatin capsules hold liquid—which may be absorbed more quickly than regular pills.

*Good have trouble swallowing meds. "Gelcaps are easier to swallow than hard tablets, though they have to be bigger to fit in the same amount of formula," said Stephen Ross, MD, a family physician at the Santa Monica–University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center.

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Quick-Dissolve Tablets

antacid tablets pills heartburn
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(such as Claritin RediTabs; Alavert Orally Disintegrating Tablets)

*What they do: When placed under the tongue, the tablet dissolves, and the medication enters your bloodstream through the mucous membranes in your mouth.

*Good need fast relief. "Medicines that dissolve under the tongue get absorbed quicker than other forms," said Dr. Ross. Not many companies make meds in this form because it can be hard to make them taste OK.

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Coated Tablets


(such as Advil Coated Tablets; Bayer Safety Coated Aspirin)

*What they do: The smooth coating helps tablets go down easier and can also delay absorption. For instance, said Dr. Giardina, enteric-coated aspirin dissolves in the small intestine rather than the stomach, where it could cause irritation.

*Good have difficulty swallowing traditional tablets, need a time-sensitive med, or take aspirin daily (such as for heart health).

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