Difficulty swallowing pills is a common problem that can make taking medication or supplements uncomfortable, if not impossible.

When someone has consistent problems swallowing due to issues with how their throat or esophagus functions, the issue is called dysphagia. But even if your discomfort is rare -- say, on occasions when you're faced with gigantic "horse pills" -- there is hope.

Why people have issues swallowing pills depends on the person. For some, it has to do with something physically blocking the object from going down. For others, it could simply be fear.

"Fear of gagging is pretty prominent," noted thoracic surgeon Stephen Cassivi told The Wall Street Journal.


Among people who report difficulty swallowing pills, about one in three experience vomiting, gagging, choking or getting the pill stuck in the throat, studies have shown.

In a study published this week in the Annals of Family Medicine, researchers looked at two different techniques -- the "pop-bottle" method and the "lean-forward" technique -- and evaluated how about 151 adult volunteers rated ease of swallowing using both techniques. If you want more confidence that your pill-swallowing method is more likely to succeed, you might try the techniques tested by a group of researchers at the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

Pop-bottle method for tablets:


1. Fill a flexible plastic water bottle or soda bottle with water.

2. Put the tablet on your tongue.

3. Take a drink from the bottle keeping contact between the bottle and your lips by pursing your lips and using a sucking motion. Swallow the water and the pill right away.

4. Don't let air get into the bottle as you swallow. You should feel the bottle squeeze on itself as you swallow.

Lean-forward technique for capsules:

1. Put the capsule on your tongue.

2. Take a medium sip of water, but do not swallow yet.

3. Bend the head forward by tilting your chin slightly toward your chest.

4. Swallow the capsule and water with the head bent slightly forward.


About 60 percent of participants said that the pop-bottle method improved their pill-swallowing experience. The lean-forward method resulted in even better reviews: About 89 percent of participants said it improved their experience.


The study found that the techniques helped people including those who reported problems with swallowing pills and those who didn't. But it didn't study how or why the techniques might have worked to improve the experience. The only way to know if your problem is more than anticipatory fear of swallowing pills or bad technique is to get it checked out by a doctor.

“You’ll need a thorough assessment first," Denise Ambrosi, a speech language pathologist at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, told Harvard Health Letter. "Maybe there’s something causing the swallowing problems that would only be identified with an instrumental swallowing assessment."

And it's important to note that if swallowing pills is difficult or uncomfortable for you for medical reasons -- such as stroke, spinal injury, swelling or inflammation of the esophagus -- then you should take your doctor's advice.