Whether you want to save money on your prescriptions or make your pills smaller and easier to swallow, or your doctor wants to adjust your dose, you might be considering splitting pills. Sometimes, cutting your pills in half is OK, but it’s not recommended in other cases.
We spoke with Paul Thompson, PharmD, a pharmacist with Banner Health, to learn more about when it’s safe to split pills and the best way to do it.
When should you split pills?
Dr. Thompson said you should only split pills when the strength you need isn’t available in a single-pill option, so your doctor recommends dividing them. If you want to split pills because your medication is too expensive or you’re having trouble swallowing large pills, talk to your doctor about your options.
What types of pills can you split?
“Immediate-release tablets are the most common types of pills to split,” Dr. Thompson said. They are designed to dissolve and be absorbed right away after you swallow them. “They often have a scored line to indicate where they should be cut.”
You might be able to split medications that treat:
- Abnormal cholesterol levels
- Erectile dysfunction
- High blood pressure
- Pain, such as aspirin or acetaminophen
What types of pills shouldn’t be split?
There are many types of medication you shouldn’t split:
- Capsules, since the medication might spill, so you don’t get the correct dose
- Extended or time-release pills, since these medications are designed to enter your system slowly, and cutting them could mean you absorb them too quickly
- Enteric-coated pills have coatings that help them pass through the stomach so the small intestine can absorb them
- Chemotherapy medications, since these can be dangerous if you get them on your skin or in your nose or eyes
- Most medications for seizures
- Anticoagulation medications
“Medications produce a desired effect on the body based on the way they are absorbed. Splitting the wrong medications can affect the way the drug acts on the body, or how the body acts on the drug,” Dr. Thompson said.
You also shouldn’t split pills if you have cognitive or memory problems and you might not remember to split them. You could end up taking whole pills and doubling the dose of medication you need. It could also be challenging for you to split pills if you have arthritis or other physical limitations.
What's the right way to split pills?
Start by talking to your doctor or pharmacist to make sure you need to divide your pills. It’s best to avoid having to split your medication. If you can’t avoid splitting pills, these tips can help you do it right:
- It’s best to use a pill splitter. These tools are inexpensive and you can find them in most pharmacies. A pill splitter has a simple design that is easy to use to cut through tablets and pills. They are your best bet for accurately dividing pills, so you get two halves about the same size.
- Don’t split your pills with a knife. It can be hard to cut pills properly this way—you’re more likely to get two different doses. Plus, you risk cutting yourself.
- Split pills as you need them—don’t split them all at once and store them to use later. Factors like heat, moisture and humidity are more likely to affect pills that have been split. And don’t try to divide pills into sizes smaller than a half. They are likely to crumble.
- Check the package insert or medication guide that comes from the pharmacy with your medication. “This serves as a ‘how to’ for medication use, and information about storage and administration can be found there,” Dr. Thompson said.
The bottom line
You may want to split your pills to save money, make them easier to swallow, or adjust your dosage. But it’s best to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you split pills. Most pills are designed to be taken whole and dividing them could mean you don’t get the right dose or effect. If you need to split pills, use a pill splitter and only cut them as you need to take them.
If you want to know more about taking your medications properly, reach out to an expert at Banner Health.