Difficulties swallowing solid oral dosage forms in a general practice population: prevalence, causes, and relationship to dosage forms

Eur J Clin Pharmacol. 2013 Apr;69(4):937-48. doi: 10.1007/s00228-012-1417-0. Epub 2012 Sep 29.


Purpose: We assessed the prevalence of difficulties in swallowing solid oral dosage forms in a general practice population. Reasons, nature, and characteristics of tablets and capsules causing such difficulties were investigated as well as general practitioners' (GP) awareness of these difficulties.

Methods: A questionnaire survey was conducted in 11 general practices and consecutive patients taking at least one solid oral dosage form for ≥4 weeks were invited to respond to a questionnaire at the practices and one at home. Physicians completed a short questionnaire for each included patient.

Results: Of all participants (N = 1,051), 37.4 % reported having had difficulties in swallowing tablets and capsules. The majority (70.4 %) of these patients was not identified by their GP. The occurrence of swallowing difficulties was related to gender (f>m), age (young>old), dysphagia [adjusted odds ratio (adOR): 7.9; p < 0.0001] and mental illness (adOR: 1.8; p < 0.05). By asking "Do you choke while eating or drinking?", affected patients could be identified with a sensitivity of 62.6 % and a specificity of 78.1 %. Because of these difficulties, 58.8 % of the affected patients had already modified their drugs in a way that may alter safety and efficacy and 9.4 % indicated to be non-adherent.

Conclusions: One in 11 primary care patients had frequent difficulties in swallowing tablets and capsules while GPs grossly underestimated these problems. Therefore, physicians should rule out swallowing difficulties regularly to avoid non-adherence and inappropriate drug modifications. Special attention should be paid to specific patient groups (e.g. women and patients with dysphagia, dysphagia indicators, or mental illness).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Capsules / chemistry
  • Capsules / standards*
  • Deglutition Disorders / epidemiology
  • Deglutition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Deglutition*
  • Female
  • General Practice* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / physiopathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Compliance / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Factors
  • Surface Properties
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tablets / chemistry
  • Tablets / standards*


  • Capsules
  • Tablets