image showing multiple tablets and a capsule on a blue background

When it comes to taking oral medication, two common forms often come to mind: tablets and capsules. These are both widely used methods for delivering medication into our bodies, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. 

In this article, we will explore their differences, pros, and cons, helping you make informed decisions about which form may be best suited for your needs.

Tablets: An Overview

Tablets are the most familiar form of oral medication. They are solid, hard-coated pills made by compressing one or more powdered ingredients. These ingredients are carefully combined and formed into a compact shape, designed to break down in the digestive tract upon consumption. 

Tablets can come in various shapes and sizes, including round, oblong, or disc-shaped. The oblong ones, often referred to as caplets, are particularly popular as they tend to be easier to swallow. Some tablets also have a special coating to prevent them from disintegrating in the stomach, ensuring they dissolve only after reaching the small intestine.

Types of Tablets

The different types of tablets available are:

Regular Tablets

Regular tablets are the most common form of oral medication. They consist of a hard-coated shell containing powdered medication. These tablets are designed to be swallowed whole with water. They are available in various shapes and sizes, including round, oblong, or disc-shaped.

Chewable Tablets

Chewable tablets are specifically formulated to be chewed before swallowing. This makes them easier for individuals who have difficulty swallowing whole pills. Chewable tablets often come in different flavours to make them more palatable, especially for children or individuals with sensitive taste buds.

Orally Dissolving Tablets (ODT)

Orally dissolving tablets, also known as ODTs, are designed to dissolve rapidly in the mouth without the need for water. This makes them ideal for individuals who have trouble swallowing or are unable to take medication with liquids. 

ODTs offer convenience and ease of administration, particularly for people on the go or those with mobility issues. They come in various flavours and formulations to suit different preferences and medical needs.

Pros of Tablets

The advantages offered by tablets are:

Inexpensive

Tablets are generally more cost-effective to manufacture compared to capsules. This affordability makes them accessible to a wider range of consumers, ensuring medication remains affordable.

Durable and Long-lasting

With a longer shelf life and greater stability, tablets are less prone to degradation over time compared to capsules. This durability ensures that the medication remains effective for a longer period, reducing the risk of wastage.

Higher Dosages

Tablets have the capability to contain higher doses of active ingredients compared to capsules. This is advantageous for individuals requiring stronger medication or higher concentrations of specific drugs to manage their condition effectively.

Can Be Split

Unlike capsules, tablets can be easily divided into smaller portions if needed. This flexibility allows for more precise dosing, making tablets suitable for individuals requiring customised medication regimens or adjustments in dosage.

Various Delivery Formats

Tablets are available in a range of delivery formats, including quick-release, delayed-release, and extended-release formulations. This versatility enables healthcare providers to tailor treatment plans to individual patient needs, ensuring optimal therapeutic outcomes.

Cons of Tablets

The disadvantages of tablets include the following:

More Likely to Cause Irritation

Tablets may pose a higher risk of gastrointestinal irritation compared to capsules. The solid composition of tablets and the additives used in their formulation can sometimes aggravate the digestive tract, leading to discomfort or irritation.

Slower Acting

Due to their solid composition, tablets are absorbed more slowly by the body compared to capsules. As a result, they may take longer to produce therapeutic effects, potentially delaying symptom relief or treatment efficacy.

Uneven Disintegration

Tablets may disintegrate inconsistently within the digestive tract, impacting the uniformity of drug absorption. This variability in dissolution rates can affect the medication’s effectiveness, leading to fluctuations in therapeutic outcomes.

Less Palatable

Some tablets may have an unpleasant taste or leave a lingering aftertaste upon swallowing. This sensory experience can be off-putting for individuals, particularly those with sensitivities or aversions to certain flavours or textures.

What Are Capsules?

Capsules, on the other hand, consist of medication enclosed in an outer shell. This shell can be either hard or soft, depending on the type of capsule. Hard-shelled capsules typically contain dry medication in powder or pellet form, while soft-gel capsules contain medication suspended in gelatin or a similar substance.

Types of Capsules

Capsules come in different forms, each with its unique characteristics and applications. Understanding these types can help individuals make informed decisions about their medication.

Hard-Shelled Capsules

Hard-shelled capsules are among the most common types of capsules. They consist of two halves that fit together to form a closed casing containing dry medication. These capsules are typically used for medications that are in powder or pellet form. 

The hard shell provides protection for the medication inside, preventing it from being affected by external factors until it reaches the digestive tract. 

Liquid-Filled Hard Capsules (LFHC)

Liquid-filled hard capsules, also known as LFHC, contain liquid medication instead of dry powder. These capsules are often used for medications that require a dual-action or extended-release formula. The liquid inside the capsule may contain a combination of active ingredients, allowing for more effective treatment of certain conditions. 

LFHCs are designed to release the medication gradually over time, ensuring a sustained therapeutic effect.

Soft-Gel Capsules

Soft-gel capsules have a gelatinous outer shell containing medication suspended in a liquid. This type of capsule is known for its quick absorption rate, making it suitable for medications that require rapid onset of action. 

Soft-gel capsules are often used for medications that are poorly soluble in water or have low bioavailability. The gelatin shell is easily digested in the stomach, allowing for rapid release and absorption of the medication into the bloodstream.

Pros of Capsules

The advantages associated with capsules include the following:

Fast-acting

Capsules have a reputation for quick breakdown in the digestive tract, leading to faster relief from symptoms compared to tablets. This swift disintegration allows the medication to enter the bloodstream promptly, offering timely relief to the patient.

Tasteless

One advantage of capsules over tablets is their likelihood of being tasteless. Capsules are less likely to have an unpleasant taste or odour compared to tablets, making them more palatable for individuals who may struggle with the taste of medication.

Tamper-Resistant

Capsules are often designed with tamper-resistant features, making them more difficult to split or crush. This design ensures that the medication is taken as intended, reducing the risk of misuse or accidental ingestion of altered doses.

Higher Drug Absorption

Capsules typically have higher bioavailability, meaning that more of the drug enters the bloodstream upon ingestion. This higher absorption rate can potentially increase the effectiveness of the medication, leading to better therapeutic outcomes for patients.

Cons of Capsules

The disadvantages of capsules include the following:

Less Durable

Capsules are generally less stable than tablets and may react to environmental conditions, particularly humidity. This reduced durability can lead to a shorter shelf life and may require careful storage to maintain the integrity of the medication.

Shorter Shelf Life

Due to their composition and susceptibility to environmental factors, capsules often have a shorter shelf life compared to tablets. This means that they may expire more quickly, requiring more frequent replacement and potentially leading to wastage of unused medication.

More Expensive

Capsules, especially those containing liquids or specialised formulations, are typically more expensive to manufacture than tablets. This increased cost may be passed on to consumers, making capsules a pricier option for medication.

May Contain Animal Products

Many capsules are made from gelatin sourced from animals, such as pigs, cows, or fish. This may pose a problem for individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets, as animal-derived ingredients are not suitable for their dietary restrictions.

Lower Doses

Capsules generally have a limited capacity to accommodate medication compared to tablets. This may result in lower doses per capsule, potentially requiring patients to take more capsules to achieve the desired therapeutic effect, leading to increased pill burden.

Safety Concerns

Crushing tablets or opening capsules can alter the absorption and release characteristics of the medication, potentially leading to under- or overdosing. Extended-release capsules are particularly risky when tampered with, as they may release the active ingredient all at once instead of gradually, increasing the risk of adverse effects or toxicity. 

It is important to follow the instructions provided by healthcare professionals and pharmaceutical manufacturers when taking medication to ensure safety and efficacy.

Key Differences Between Capsules and Tablets

While both capsules and tablets are safe forms of medication, there are several notable differences between them. Understanding these differences can help individuals make informed decisions about which form of medication is most suitable for their needs. Here are the key distinctions between these:

Composition

Capsules: Generally made of gelatin or vegetarian-friendly alternatives, capsules contain a powder or liquid form of medication.

Tablets: Composed of compressed powder, tablets may contain binders, fillers, disintegrates, and other inactive ingredients.

Absorption

Capsules: Offer better protection against stomach acids due to their dual-part composition. The inner suspension, whether liquid, semisolid, or powdered, is encased within an outer shell, usually made of gelatin. This can result in higher bioavailability, making capsules slightly more effective than tablets.

Tablets: Absorb at a slower rate and may be more susceptible to degradation in the stomach.

Taste

Capsules: Can mask the taste of medication, making them less likely to have an unpleasant taste or odour.

Tablets: May have a bitter taste, particularly if they contain certain active ingredients.

Shelf Life

Capsules: Generally have a longer expiration date compared to tablets.

Tablets: May expire sooner due to their composition and manufacturing process.

Animal Products

Capsules: Soft-shell capsules are typically made from gelatin, derived from animal products, which may not be suitable for vegetarians. However, vegetarian-friendly alternatives are available.

Tablets: Do not typically contain gelatin, making them suitable for individuals with dietary restrictions.

Size

Capsules: Come in limited sizes due to their structure. 

Tablets: Available in various sizes and can be easily broken in half if needed, offering more flexibility in dosing.

Splitting

Capsules: Generally cannot be split due to their structure.

Tablets: Can be scored and split in half, allowing for dose adjustments as prescribed by a healthcare provider.

Chewable

Capsules: Not designed to be chewed.

Tablets: Can be formulated into chewable forms, although they may not taste as pleasant as capsules.

Unpredictability

Capsules: May have uneven distribution of contents, leading to unpredictability in dosage.

Tablets: Generally have more predictable dosing as the active ingredient is evenly distributed throughout the tablet.

Irritation

Capsules: May irritate the stomach lining, potentially causing nausea.

Tablets: Less likely to cause irritation to the stomach lining.

Accuracy of Prescriptions

Tablets: Can be split, potentially leading to deviations from prescribed doses.

Capsules: Cannot be split, ensuring patients take the entire dose as prescribed by their healthcare provider.

Tips for Swallowing Tablets and Capsules

Swallowing tablets and capsules can sometimes be challenging, especially for those who have difficulty with swallowing or are sensitive to the taste of medication. Here are some simple yet effective tips to make the process easier and more comfortable:

Take with a Big Sip of Water and Visualise Swallowing

Before taking a tablet or capsule, drink a big sip of water to moisten your throat and make swallowing easier. As you swallow, visualise the pill moving smoothly down your throat. This mental preparation can help reduce anxiety and facilitate the swallowing process.

Use a Narrow Opening Bottle or Add to Semi-Liquid Food

If swallowing pills with water is difficult, consider using a narrow opening bottle, such as a sports bottle or a bottle with a straw. This can help control the flow of water and make it easier to swallow the pill without feeling overwhelmed. 

Alternatively, you can mix the tablet or capsule with a small amount of semi-liquid food, such as applesauce or pudding, to mask the taste and make swallowing more comfortable.

Try Special Devices or Coatings Designed for Easier Swallowing

There are various devices and coatings available that are specifically designed to make swallowing tablets and capsules easier. 

These may include pill swallowing cups, which provide a controlled way to take medication, or gel coatings that make pills smoother and easier to swallow. Experiment with different options to find the one that works best for you.

Final Words

Both tablets and capsules serve as popular forms of oral medication, each with its unique characteristics and applications. Tablets offer durability, flexibility in dosing, and various delivery formats, while capsules provide faster absorption and tamper resistance. 

When choosing between the two, consider factors such as cost, stability, ease of swallowing, and dietary restrictions. Consulting with your healthcare provider can help you make informed decisions tailored to your individual needs and preferences.

author avatar
Sridhar Gumudavelli
Sridhar Gumudavelli serves as the Vice President of Formulation R&D at Renejix Pharma Solutions, where he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table. His leadership is instrumental in navigating the complex process of drug formulation, leveraging a variety of technologies to enhance drug absorption, bioavailability, and patient compliance.Sridhar’s expertise is not just limited to his hands-on experience; he is also an innovator with several patents filed under his name. These patents reflect his contributions to advancing drug delivery systems, showcasing his ability to tackle some of the most challenging problems in pharmaceutical sciences for the past 30+ years.

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