Know your pill-splitting dos and don'ts

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Splitting your pills in order to save money or make your medication easier to swallow? A new study suggests this is a potentially dangerous idea, but there is a right way and wrong way to split your drugs, according to experts.

Announced on January 5, Belgian researchers found that nearly one-third of split pill fragments deviated from recommended dosages by 15 percent or more. Another 14 percent of split tablets deviated from recommended dosages by 25 percent, which researchers say can be problematic in some cases. Even minute dosage deviations of certain medications can cause critical problems, including drugs for irregular heartbeat, seizures, and blood clots. In the study, volunteers divided tablets of various sizes using three tools: a kitchen knife, scissors and a pill-splitting device.

This doesn't mean you should never split pills; just proceed with caution, researchers said. Why split pills to save money? For some medications, a bottle of, say, 100mg doses of a medication can cost the same as a bottle of 50mg pills, so some consumers split the dosages themselves to cut costs in half.

It's always essential to consult your doctor or pharmacist before splitting your pills, because some drugs can be split safely, such as aspirin, cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins, high-blood pressure pills, and depression medications. Pills you should never split include birth control pills, blood thinners, pills with a hard coating, pills that crumble more easily, and time-release medications.

Renowned US consumer magazine Consumer Reports suggests always using a pill splitter (while the study suggests this isn't a perfect method, it is by far better than using a knife or scissors), which you can find in a pharmacy for less than €10; using a knife or scissors can split your pill into unequal halves. And only split your medication into halves, not into thirds or smaller portions, experts say. Also, don't split your pills in advance, states Consumer Reports, since some medications may deteriorate when exposed to air and moisture.

For a list of medications you can and can't split, visit http://blogs.consumerreports.org/health/2010/09/splitting-pills-can-save-you-money-but-remember-these-dos-and-donts-drug-safety-best-buy-drugs.html

Access the study, reported in the January issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2010.05477.x/full

Watch a video on pill-splitting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Fr2jmzNN30

 

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