Capsules vs. Tablets? Pick the Right Pill

All it takes is a quick stroll down the pain medication or supplements aisle of your pharmacy or grocery store to see that there are thousands of different formulations for over-the-counter medications. You'll see gelcaps, quick-dissolve tabs, capsules, and more.

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 you should take a capsule versus a tablet or other forms of meds is an important decision.

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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.

When they work best: If you have trouble swallowing medications the gelcap might be the choice you should reach for in your pain medication. "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 University of California Santa Monica, 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.

When they work best: If you need fast relief the quick dissolve tablet might be right for you. "Medicines that dissolve under the tongue get absorbed quicker than other forms," said Dr. Ross. Not many companies make medications in this form because it can be hard to make them taste okay.

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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.

When they work best: If you have difficulty swallowing traditional tablets, need a time-sensitive medicine, or take aspirin daily—such as for heart health—coated tablets are a good choice.

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