Adolescents' struggles with swallowing tablets: barriers, strategies and learning

Pharm World Sci. 2008 Jan;30(1):65-9. doi: 10.1007/s11096-007-9142-y. Epub 2007 Jun 27.


Objective: To explore adolescents' struggles with taking oral medications.

Setting: Copenhagen, Denmark.

Method: Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 89 adolescents (33 boys, 56 girls) between the ages of 11 and 20. Adolescents were recruited through four public schools. To identify struggles with taking oral medication, interview transcripts were systematically searched for statements including the terms swallow, chew, crush and eat. Thematic analysis of the identified statements was carried out to reveal dominant themes in the adolescents' accounts.

Results: Over one-third of the adolescents spontaneously provided accounts of the difficulties they experienced with taking oral medications, especially with swallowing tablets. Three themes were dominant in their narratives: barriers, strategies and learning. Barriers experienced by the adolescents involved the medications' properties, e.g. taste. Adolescents developed strategies to overcome these barriers, e.g. crushing tablets. Via a process of learning-by-doing and the acquisition of increased experience and autonomy, many adolescents mastered the skill of swallowing tablets.

Conclusion: Many adolescents experienced barriers in their attempts to swallow tablets. They developed various strategies to overcome these barriers and gradually mastered taking medicines in a learning-by-doing process.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Adult
  • Deglutition*
  • Denmark
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Compliance / psychology*
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations / administration & dosage
  • Qualitative Research
  • Tablets / administration & dosage*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Tablets