What is the difference between pills, capsules, tablets, caplets, and chewables?

June 03, 2017


What is the difference between pills, capsules, tablets, caplets, and chewables?
Capsule pills are made of dissolvable gelatin and contain medication in a cylindrical outer shell
Softgels are one-piece capsules made of gelatin combined with glycerin or sorbitol
Tablet pills are made of compressed mass of medicated material
Caplets are smaller than conventional tablets and possess a smoother finish, making them easier to swallow.
Chewable tablet pills are larger in size because the medication is mixed with other ingredients. Chewables are perfect for children and patients having difficulties swallowing

In the past medications, supplements, and pain killers came in tablets or capsules—that was all. With the rapid growth and expansion of the pharmaceutical industry, today there are more options. Not only do we get improved capsules and tables, but also caplets, soft gels, chewables, and more. These give consumers a wide range of choices when it comes to medicaments. In fact, it is almost too-wide a variety. Choosing the right form can be confusing. Each has pros and cons, and the physical format can make a difference in terms of results. Which is best? Here is what you need to know.



What are Pills?


This is a general term for medicaments presented in any small, rounded mass. Typically you swallow them whole for nutritional or medicinal purposes. What follows are a few physical formats for pills that are readily available to patients:


1. Capsules


Pharmacists place the powder or jelly medication in a cylindrical outer shell made of dissolvable gelatin. The capsules are odorless and tasteless, making them easy for patients to swallow. The casings break down faster, rapidly releasing the contents into the blood stream. Sometimes the edges of capsules are sealed, and sometimes not. If you open the capsules, you can add the contents to apple sauce or a protein shake. This is beneficial for smaller children, or people who have difficulty swallowing larger pills. However, it also makes capsules more susceptible to tampering. These are also more expensive to manufacture and purchase.


2. Softgels


These one-piece capsules are made of gelatin combined with glycerin or sorbitol. Manufacturers uses these almost exclusively for liquid or oil-based medicaments. They have an even smoother shape and contour. Compared to ordinary capsules, softgels are even easier swallow. Also, because they are air-tight and completely sealed, they have a longer shelf-life when compared to ordinary capsules. That said, softgels cannot be neatly broken down into smaller doses or easily opened. The specialized manufacturing is also more expensive, and pricing will reflect that.



3. Tablets


Tablets are the most common. They are small, smooth, compressed masses of medicated material. Tablets come in a wide range of shapes and sizes to better accommodate patients’ needs. Usually they are circular and flat, and coated with ingredients like sugar to slow the release of into the body. They are less-expensive to manufacture and companies can pack the most material into any given space. This makes them more affordable. They are also tamper-resistant and the most shelf-stable option. Tablets retain their potency for a longer period of time. However, one of the leading drawbacks is that tablets are the most difficult to swallow. Fortunately you can cut scored tablets for dose splitting and more manageable sizes.


4. Caplets


These have all the same advantages of tablets, but are smaller in size with a smoother finish, making them easier to swallow. Unfortunately, fewer products are offered in caplet form and these medicines are often more expensive than tablets.



5. Chewables


Sometimes swallowing is not an option. So physicians and pharmacists might recommend chewables. Though larger in size, these medicaments tend to have lower potency. This is because the medicine is mixed with flavorings and sugars to make them more palatable. Usually this option is reserved for children and other patients who have an excessively difficult time swallowing full tablets and capsules.



As long as medications and supplements are taken as directed, there should not be any significant adverse effects. Just to be sure, contact your physician or health care provider if you have questions about the pills you are using. They will recommend which format will best suit your needs whether it be tablets, caplets, capsules, etc. 

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