Why Can’t I Swallow Pills? Understanding the Causes and Overcoming the Issue


Are you one of the many people who struggle with swallowing pills? For some individuals, this problem can be a minor inconvenience, while for others, it can severely impact their quality of life. In fact, studies have shown that up to 40% of people have difficulty swallowing pills. In this article, we will explore the science behind pill-swallowing difficulties and provide practical tips and solutions to help you overcome this issue.

Understanding the Science behind Difficulty in Swallowing Pills

Swallowing pills may seem like a simple task, but in reality, it involves a complex coordination of muscles and nerves that work together to move the pill from the mouth to the stomach. The process involves the tongue pushing the pill towards the back of the throat, the muscles in the throat contracting and relaxing, and the epiglottis closing off the windpipe to prevent any choking.

However, sometimes, this process can go awry, resulting in difficulty swallowing pills. For instance, the size and shape of the pill can cause it to become lodged in the throat, or its texture and taste can trigger a gag reflex.

5 Common Causes of Pill-Swallowing Problems and How to Overcome Them

There are several common causes of pill-swallowing problems, including:

1. Size of the Pill

If a pill is too large, it can become stuck in the throat, making it difficult to swallow. In this case, breaking the pill into smaller pieces can make it easier to swallow. However, it is important to check first with your healthcare provider if it’s safe to break the pill.

2. Texture of the Pill

Pills that are dry or rough can irritate the throat, triggering a gag reflex. To overcome this, you can try drinking water or another liquid to moisten the mouth before swallowing the pill. Alternatively, you can also try coating the pill with a thin layer of food such as applesauce or pudding to make it easier to swallow.

3. Taste of the Pill

Some pills have a bitter or unpleasant taste that makes them difficult to swallow. In this case, taking the pill with a flavored drink or eating candy after taking the pill can help mask the taste.

4. Fear of Choking

For some individuals, the fear of choking or gagging when swallowing pills can cause anxiety, making it even harder to swallow. To overcome this issue, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualization can help ease anxiety and make swallowing easier.

5. Poor Head Position

The position of the head when swallowing can play a crucial role in pill-swallowing problems. Tilting the head forward while pushing the pill to the back of the mouth can make swallowing easier. Additionally, taking pills while in an upright position can also help improve swallowing.

Overcoming Fear and Anxiety: Tips for Swallowing Pills with Ease

Fear and anxiety can be a significant barrier to swallowing pills, but there are several strategies you can use to overcome these emotions.

One approach is desensitization, which involves gradually exposing yourself to the act of swallowing pills, starting with very small pills or even candy and slowly working up to larger pills. Another approach that can be effective is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing negative thoughts and emotions associated with pill swallowing through positive reinforcement and practice.

Alternatives to Swallowing Pills: Finding Solutions that Work for You

If swallowing pills continues to be an issue, there are several alternatives to consider, such as:

1. Liquid Medication

If the medication is available in liquid form, this can be a good alternative to swallowing pills. The medication can be easily measured and mixed with a flavor of your choice, making it more palatable for some individuals.

2. Crushing Pills

Crushing pills into a powder can make them easier to swallow. However, it is important to check with your healthcare provider first to ensure that crushing the pill won’t affect the medication’s efficacy.

3. Alternative Delivery Methods

In certain cases, alternative delivery methods such as injections or suppositories may be necessary. Discussing these options with a healthcare provider can help identify the best solution for your specific needs.

The Importance of Proper Pill Placement: Techniques to Make Swallowing Pills Easier

Proper pill placement can make swallowing pills easier. Some techniques to try include taking pills while standing or sitting upright, placing the pill at the back of the tongue and tilting the head forward, or using food to mask the taste or texture of the pill.

When to Seek Professional Help: Tips on Discussing Your Pill-Swallowing Problems with Your Healthcare Provider

In some cases, frequent choking or gagging may require medical attention. Discussing your pill-swallowing problems with your healthcare provider can help identify the underlying cause of the problem and determine the best course of action. They may recommend additional testing or alternative medications that are easier to swallow.


Difficulty swallowing pills can be a frustrating and stressful issue, but with the right strategies, it can be overcome. From understanding the science behind pill-swallowing difficulties to finding alternative delivery methods and seeking professional help when necessary, there are various solutions available to help you overcome this issue. Don’t be afraid to speak to your healthcare provider or a therapist if you continue to struggle with pill-swallowing, and remember to be patient and persistent in your pursuit for a solution.

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