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How to Swallow Pills If You're a Chronic Pain Patient With Dysphagia

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I hate taking pills. Big ones. Little ones. Pink ones. Blue ones. Doesn’t matter — if it’s medicine, it doesn’t go down easily. You know the line — “hard pill to swallow.” Well, it’s a metaphor for a reason.

I can just about swallow a cheeseburger whole but put a tiny little pill in my pie eater and my gag reflex engages like I took a swallow of expired, chunky milk straight from the carton.


Difficulty swallowing pills, or dysphagia, can be caused by fear, pain or other mental or physical conditions that can lead to dry mouth, gagging, choking and sometimes even vomiting.

Personally, and in the absence of all logic, I’d rather suffer a five-day blackout migraine than take a pill. Unfortunately, for the majority of people with chronic pain, pill swallowing avoidance is not an option.

For most people, the basics of pill swallowing are not rocket science. Put pill in mouth. Fill with liquid. Swallow. But when you’re like me and you hate taking pills, this method often doesn’t work. It might have something to do with the globus sensation, a tightening of the throat not related to a physical condition brought on by stress, anxiety or fear.

In other words, “it’s all in my head.”

So what can we do when a spoonful of sugar doesn’t help the medicine go down? Well, there are plenty of articles out there offering suggestions on how to take your medicine.

Recommendations include:

  • Drinking lots of water before, during and after the pill swallowing attempt.
  • Employing the use of relaxation techniques, like deep breathing and throat humming.
  • Visualizing success or changing the inner monologue. For example, “I can do this,” as opposed to, “I can’t do this.”
  • Building up a tolerance because practice makes perfect, people. I have witnessed this as truth.
  • Establishing routines, like taking your medicine at the same time and in the same way daily.

All of the above may work for some people, but not for me. I have my own method  — probably a genetic inheritance from my father who also hated swallowing pills.

Anywho, the technique is simple, really.

  1. Put liquid in the mouth first (this is the critical first step).
  2. Squeeze the pill between pressed lips, avoiding liquid dribbling onto the chin.
  3. Don’t let the pill touch any other part of the mouth, including the teeth, tongue or palate.
  4. Squeeze eyes as tightly as possible.
  5. Grimace.
  6. Swallow.
  7. Repeat swallowing with as much additional liquid as necessary.
  8. Thank God when success ensues and the pill hits the wide-open space of the stomach.
  9. Grimace again.
  10. Finally, go about your daily business, proud of the fact that you wore your big girl pants to the pill-popping party and showed that little yellow bitch who’s boss.

Seriously though, is there a little bit of resentment on my part about having to take medication at all? Hell yeah. I hate taking pills. To manage my chronic pain, I’ll be taking them for the rest of my life. Truthfully, I forgot my pill last night and again this morning. It could be a passive-aggressive forgetfulness, who knows?

Do I feel better when I remember to take my current prescription? Yes, I do.

How about you? Do you take your medicine like a kid in a candy store? Or are you more like me, someone who needs to be wrestled to the ground and forced to open her mouth, leaving the other person sweating in a crumpled heap of defeat five minutes later?

Getty Images photo via tomozina

Originally published: April 3, 2020
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