Can I crush medicines before taking them?

Don't chew, crush or break tablets, pills or open capsules unless your GP or another healthcare professional has told you to do so.

Medicines in tablet, pill or capsule form come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are designed to release medicine slowly into your body over a period of time.

Some have a special coating and may be difficult to crush. In some cases, these will not work properly, or may even be harmful, unless they are swallowed whole.

What happens when you crush medicines

Generally, when crushing a tablet or opening a capsule, the whole dose is released over 5 to 10 minutes. Some tablets or capsules are designed to release the medicines quickly after taking them, and crushing or opening them should not cause any significant problems.

However, if your medicine is designed to release the medicine slowly, crushing or opening it could result in an initial overdose (and a higher chance of side effects) followed by a period without medication. It is therefore important to check with a healthcare professional first.

If you crush, chew or break your medicine without getting advice first, it could release all of the active ingredients into your body at once. In some cases, this could be very dangerous.

Some tablets are coated to make them easier to swallow or to protect the stomach lining from the medication. The coating usually makes it difficult to crush these tablets and the contents might taste unpleasant or irritate the stomach lining.

What if I can't swallow tablets or capsules?

If you, your child or someone who you are caring for has problems swallowing tablets, pills or capsules, tell your GP or the healthcare professional who is prescribing the medicine. There may be an alternative medicine available, such as a liquid medicine or a tablet that can be dissolved in water, which may be more suitable.

Crushing tablets

Crushing tablets is normally advised if there is no other alternative. If you have been advised by your healthcare professional to crush your medicine, they will tell you how do this and how to take the medicine. For example, they can tell you whether you should:

  • dissolve the medicine in water 
  • sprinkle the medicine over food
  • take any precautions, such as wearing a mask to avoid inhaling the powder

Getting advice

If you have any concerns about your medicine and how to use or take it correctly, you can:

  • read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine 
  • use the Medicines A-Z index to find information about your medicine 
  • speak to your GP or pharmacist 
  • call NHS 111

Read the answers to more questions about medicines.

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 11/03/2015

Next review due: 10/03/2017