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Capsule vs Tablets: What's the Difference Between Capsules and Tablets?

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Capsules and tablets are both common forms of oral medication, used for a variety of conditions. They both work by providing your body with medication via the digestive tract.

While both have similar purposes, there are some key differences between the types of mediations and who they are suited to. To help you get medication online with confidence, we’ve outlined the differences between capsules and tablets in this guide.

What Are Tablets?

Tablets are the most common form of pill – they offer an inexpensive yet highly effective way to deliver medication orally. Tablets are made by compressing one or more powdered ingredients together to create a solid, smooth-coated pill that breaks down within the digestive tract.

How Do You Take Tablets?

Tablets are usually taken with water and, depending on the type of medication, with or without food. You can also buy chewable tablets, which again are available for certain types of medication but not all.

How Do Tablets Work?

Tablets often have a special coating around each pill to ensure that the ingredients are absorbed properly in the gut and not earlier in the digestion process. The dissolved tablet is eventually absorbed into the bloodstream where it then travels to the liver. From here, it distributes to the targeted area of the body.

What Do Tablets Look Like?

In addition to the active ingredient, tablets are usually made with additional ingredients that hold the pill together and also improve the texture or taste. Tablets can be formed into disc shapes, oblongs or round pills and some might have a line across them which makes them easier to break in half (if a half dose is required).

What Are Capsules?

Capsules are a type of medication enclosed in an outer shell. The shell breaks down in the intestines, where the medication is then absorbed into the bloodstream and metabolised (in the same way as a tablet).

What Do Capsules Look Like?

Capsules come in both hard shell and soft gel forms. Hardshell capsules consist of two halves – one half fits within the other to create a closed case. It is filled with either a powder or pellet form of the dry medication - or a liquid medication.

Capsules are great for dual-action or extended-release formulas. Soft gel capsules look a bit different to hard capsules – they’re usually wider and semi-transparent, and they contain a liquid medication that is easy to digest and released into the body.

Capsules Vs Tablets: The Pros and Cons

In short, no medication is “better” than the other. Whether you consume a capsule or tablet will entirely depend on the medication that you are using - rest assured that the manufacturer would have taken the pros and cons of both into consideration.

The Advantages Of Tablets

Tablets are usually shelf-stable and have a longer lifespan than capsules. A single tablet can also accommodate a higher dose of medication than a single capsule, so they’re well-suited to medications where a higher dose is required. Unlike capsules, tablets can be split in two - and some are chewable - which makes them more accessible to people who struggle to swallow tablets.

The Advantages Of Capsules

Capsules, on the other hand, are fast-acting, tasteless and tamper-resistant because they can’t be split in two or crushed like a tablet. Capsules also offer higher bioavailability which means that they can be absorbed by the bloodstream more effectively.

The Disadvantages Of Tablets

There are considerations to make though. Tablets are more likely to cause irritation to your gut and they can be slower acting. Because tablets are more likely to break down inconsistently, they can lead to a lower absorption rate. Many people also find tablets to be less palatable.

The Disadvantages Of Capsules

Capsules are less durable than tablets and can be affected by humidity. Capsules are also more expensive, both to produce and purchase, and can contain animal products such as gelatine which makes them unsuitable for vegans and vegetarians.

So - Which Is Safer?

Neither type of medication is safer than the other – both present only minor risks. If you’re concerned about the ingredients in either tablets or capsules, it’s worth speaking to your GP or pharmacist before taking the medication. If you’re allergic or sensitive to any of the ingredients in your medication, speak to your doctor who can prescribe you an alternative option.

Final Notes

Both tablets and capsules are an accessible form of medication. While they usually have a similar purpose, they do present differences that are worth considering. If you have any concerns about the medication you are taking, do not hesitate to get in touch with a health professional.