Groove in the tablet – should I really split the medication?

Is sharing pills a good idea?
Photo: Franziska Gabbert/dpa

Some people have problems swallowing tablets. Others only want to take half the dose, for example if they only have a mild headache. But should you just split tablets like that?

Some people use a knife to do this, some use their thumbnail, and many even have an actual pill splitter. Patients should never share their tablets without consulting a doctor or pharmacist. The Hessen State Chamber of Pharmacists (LAK Hessen) draws attention to this.

Just because a tablet has a notch doesn’t necessarily mean you can share it. The slot can be a so-called decorative groove – it is used to make it easier to tell medications apart.

When does sharing make sense – and when doesn’t it?

If tablets are not intended to be divided, the active ingredient may be unevenly distributed in the carrier substance. A coating often also covers tablets. The smooth surface is intended to make swallowing easier. It also partially masks the unpleasant taste of some active ingredients. Sometimes the film coating has the task of slowly releasing the active ingredient.

So if you divide tablets without doing so, you not only change the dosage, but also the release of the active ingredient. This could lead to more side effects, loss of effectiveness or even overdoses, warns Ursula Funke, President of the LAK Hessen.

What can help patients?

If patients have problems swallowing large tablets, they should ask their doctor or pharmacy about alternatives. Sometimes there are smaller tablets with the same dosage.

Did the consultation show that the tablet can be split? Then a brochure from Heidelberg University Hospital gives tips on how best to proceed.

According to the LAK Hessen, cutting tablets with a kitchen knife is not a good idea. In addition to the risk of injury, a loss of the active ingredient is also possible if the knife cuts improperly and parts of the tablet crumble as a result. The safest aid is a pill splitter.

Tip: A divided tablet should be taken immediately so that there is no loss of the active ingredient due to abrasion.

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