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Why are there different forms of oral medication?

Published on February 14, 2024 at 13:35 / Updated on February 22, 2024 at 20:03

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs as well as natural health products come in a variety of forms. The oral form is undoubtedly the most widespread because of how easy it is to administer. Oral medication can be used for a wide range of indications, from antibiotics to medication for chronic conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, to contraceptives. Medication can be available in various forms, so let's take a closer look at the most popular and common ones.


Many drugs are available in tablet form. These compact pills may contain one or more pharmaceutical products as well as non-medicinal products, such as colourants or binding agents.

Tablets can be designed for immediate release or with a mechanism to release the active ingredient over an extended period of time. This is important to keep in mind if you want to cut or crush your tablet. In the case of tablets formulated to release a drug gradually, cutting or crushing them would make all the active ingredients available immediately. This could lead to side effects or an overdose. For immediate-release tablets, you can cut them to obtain a lower dosage or crush them to facilitate administration for people who have difficulty swallowing tablets. Many tablets have lines to make them easier to cut.

Most tablets are intended to be swallowed, but some are designed to dissolve under your tongue. These are known as sublingual tablets, and they enable rapid absorption of the drug for faster efficacy. There are also tablets that dissolve rapidly when in contact with saliva. These tablets are particularly sensitive to humidity, so it's important to store them in a dry place. Other tablets are designed to be dissolved in a liquid before consumption. These are known as effervescent tablets. A minimum amount of liquid is often required to dissolve the tablet, so be sure to respect this quantity. 


Capsules are another common dosage form for oral medications. They consist of a shell, often made of gelatin, filled with powder, liquid or granules. As with tablets, capsules can contain one or more active ingredients.

Usually, the shell is dissolved in the stomach to release the drug(s). However, some capsules are designed to dissolve more or less rapidly in the digestive tract. The contents of the capsule may also be designed for prolonged release.

Many people think that all capsules can be opened and the contents sprinkled in a liquid or puree. However, it's essential to check with your healthcare professional before doing so. Some sustained-release capsules should not be opened. It's also possible that the capsule can be opened, but the granules inside must not be crunched.


Liquid medications include syrups and suspensions. Syrups are sweet-tasting liquids (with or without sugar) that are easier to administer than tablets or capsules. Suspensions, such as children's antibiotics, are often diluted at the pharmacy before use. Once diluted, the drug will have a limited shelf life. You should, therefore, rely on the expiry date printed on the pharmacy label, not the label directly on the product bottle.

It should be noted that kitchen utensils are not recommended for measuring doses of liquid medications. There is too much variability in utensil sizes, making it impossible to obtain an accurate dose. It is preferable to use syringes without needles or measuring cups.


In some cases, a drug is available in powder form. This is intended to be dissolved in a liquid before administration. To ensure that the powder dissolves properly, it is important to respect the amount of liquid indicated in the dosage instructions.

Dosage and storage

In all cases, be sure to follow your healthcare professional's recommendations on how to take and store your medication. Remember to ask any questions to understand the dosage and storage instructions. If it's a prescription medication, carefully read the label affixed to it by your pharmacist and any additional labels. You'll find the necessary information if your medication needs to be refrigerated or shaken before use.

If you're having trouble taking your oral medication, don't hesitate to discuss it with your healthcare professional. There may be alternatives available to help you.

The drugs and pharmaceutical services featured on the website are offered by pharmacists who own the affiliated pharmacies at Familiprix. The information contained on the site is for informational purposes only and does not in any way replace the advice and advice of your pharmacist or any other health professional. Always consult a health professional before taking or discontinuing medication or making any other decision. Familiprix inc. and the proprietary pharmacists affiliated with Familiprix do not engage in any way by making this information available on this website.