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Pain Pills: What's the difference? Tablets capsules, liqui-gels - how to choose

by Dennis Bryan, R.Ph., M.B.A., FAPhA

Variety of pillsQ What’s the difference between all those pain-pill forms?

A Really, not much. Here’s a general scorecard, from the pills that work fastest to the ones that work slowest.

  1. Liquids
  2. Liqui-gel caps (liquid in a gelatin coating)
  3. Chew or rapid-release tablets
  4. Capsules (powder in a gelatin coating)
  5. Hard tablets

In the end, though, a medicine’s quickness depends more on the medication than the form in which it’s delivered. And certain medicines that are slower to kick in may also last longer.

Other things that affect how quickly it takes a pain pill to start working (around 30 to 60 minutes) include:

  • what and how much you’ve eaten.  Usually, the fuller your stomach is, the slower a product works.  (Take as directed; you need food with certain medicines.
  • brand versus generic.  Though the active ingredients are about the same, the stuff that sticks them together and helps the medicine break down may be different.

So why are there so many forms of the same pain medicines out there? Well, some people find certain forms easier to swallow than others. But simple marketing is another reason.  As patents run out, prices drop, but strangely, new, “improved” and more expensive delivery forms appear!


DENNIS BRYAN, R.Ph., M.B.A., FAPhA, is a pharmacist at WBC Pharmacies Inc. in Chicago.

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Last updated and/or approved: October 2010.
Original article appeared in July/August 2009 former print magazine. Bio current as of that issue. This general health-care information is not meant as individual advice. Please see our disclaimer.
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0
Read the product labels
written by Charles , March 29, 2014

Liquid filled capsules have the fastest onset. Dissolution in water isn't relevant as the stomach juices are acidic.
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Caplets
written by MsDbird , August 14, 2013

Caplets are hard tablets in the shape of a capsule, nothing more.
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acid
written by CFM , May 01, 2013

RBA, did you use stomach acid in your experiment? and what is a caplet?
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Re: Caplets Work
written by Leigh Ann , October 30, 2011

What a neat idea for a science-fair experiment, rba. Thanks for sharing your results.

Leigh Ann Otte
Managing Editor
MyFamilyDoctorMag.com

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CAPLETS WORK
written by rba , October 28, 2011

I performed a science fair exoeriment on testing which ibuprofen type dissolved the most quickly, therefore giving relief the fastest. I chose caplets, hard tablets, and liqui gels. The form that dissolved the most quickly was caplet with an average of 8:09, followed by tablets, and finally liqui gels with an average of 1:00:20
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...
written by me , June 23, 2010

gels
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Fast Relief for life
written by Donna , September 03, 2009

I always go for the liquids. I want fast relief =)
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