Daily Health

Halving a Tablet: Is It Okay To Split Medication In Half?

Oral tablets are usually manufactured in patients' most commonly prescribed strengths.

That means that the dose of each tablet is the dose you're supposed to take at a given time, and all you have to do is take the medication as prescribed by your healthcare practitioner.

But what if the dose of your tablets isn't correct, or you have some other reason for wanting to split your medication

There are some situations where you might require half tablets. Here's how to determine if you can safely split that pill.

Is it okay to halve a tablet? Guide to pill splitting

There are times when you might have a good reason to consider splitting pills that you've been prescribed. Some of the most common reasons are:

  • Pill strength. Sometimes, commercially available oral tablets aren't in the required dose.  The manufacturer might make a medication in a range of strengths, but it's possible that your pharmacy or healthcare practitioner does not have every strength in stock. In that case, pill splitting may be required to get the correct dose.
  • Trouble swallowing a pill. When a pill is uncomfortable or painful to swallow, splitting it can make it easier to take the full dose.
  • The need to maximize cost savings. The same medication in different strengths may have roughly the same cost. If a medication isn't covered by insurance, the cost to the patient would be reduced by purchasing a larger strength and taking tablet halves to get the correct dose.

While these reasons are legitimate, it doesn't necessarily mean splitting your tablets is necessarily safe or advisable. 

It's important to understand the potential risks involved. If you do decide to split a pill with the go-ahead from your healthcare practitioner, you should also make sure you're doing it correctly.

Splitting pills may have risks

Splitting pills isn't always as straightforward as it sounds. Some common risks include:

  • Pill crumbling. Splitting a tablet can cause crumbling, which reduces the accuracy of the dose. You may think half of your 10 mg tablet is 5 mg, but after losing some of the volume to crumbling, it may be more like 4 mg.
  • Dose confusion. Not only is it easier for you to get confused about your dose if you're occasionally splitting pills, but healthcare practitioners may not know what dose you're actually taking.
  • Splitting the wrong medication. If you take multiple medications, you may accidentally split the wrong tablet, messing up your dosage of multiple drugs.
  • Those who are visually impaired or have other disabilities may have increased difficulty and end up not getting the intended dose.
  • The annoyance of having to split a tablet can make it more likely that you'll skip the medication altogether.

To split or not to split?

If you're thinking about splitting a tablet, make sure you discuss it with your healthcare practitioner first to make sure it's okay. 

The pill should be suitable for splitting, easy to split and be split correctly. We'll go over things to keep in mind if you are splitting a pill.

The most likely reason you might do this is if your exact dose is not accessible and the obtainable dosage strengths are not appropriate for you. 

Most of the time, you won't encounter this situation because commercially available strengths tend to be the most commonly prescribed dosages.

Pills you can half safely

The most common indication that a pill can be safely halved is if there is a line down the middle. This is referred to as a scored tablet. 

The scoring not only indicated that splitting the pill is possible but also makes it physically easier to do so. 

The scored line is a bit like a perforation in a piece of paper, making it easier to split along that line.

It's also important that you always discuss splitting tablets with your healthcare practitioner before doing it, even if your pills are scored.

Pills not suited for halving

Some pills should not be halved under any circumstances. These include:

  • Enteric-coated/extended-release tablets. The coating causes the medication to be released over time, and cutting into it causes the medication to be released too fast.
  • Very small tablets. These can't be reliably split evenly or without crumbling.
  • Asymmetrical tablets. It's difficult to split these evenly.
  • Capsules. The coating may provide a delayed release, and it's difficult to split the medication inside the capsule evenly.

How to half a tablet safely

The first step if you're considering halving a tablet is to talk to your healthcare practitioner. They can help you determine if tablet splitting is safe and advisable in your specific situation.

They may also prescribe other medications based on doses they believe you're taking, so they must always have up-to-date information.

If you are splitting a tablet, the best way to do it is to use a specialized device or pill cutter. 

These aren't necessarily fool-proof, but they're most likely to produce a clean, even split. Sometimes, even if your tablets are scored, you may find they don't consistently split evenly and dispense exact doses.

Best practices for tablet splitting

If you're splitting tablets, these best practices can help ensure you're getting the correct dose safely.

  • Wash your hands. If you're using a pill splitter, make sure it's been washed and that you clean it after every use. Powder from split tablets can accumulate and accidentally be ingested the next time you use it.

 

  • Use a tablet splitting device. Don't use a knife or scissors since these don't produce even, clean splits.

 

  • Split tablets as you need them. Don't split a full bottle at once because moisture and oxygen can begin to degrade the medication. Tablets are coated to prevent this, but once you split them, the centre of the tablet will be exposed. Split tablets crumble easily, so splitting a bunch at once can lead to more crumbling.

What could go wrong?

The most likely issue you may encounter if you halve your tablets is taking the wrong dose. 

You may not be splitting the tablets evenly, or some of the medication may be crumbling away each time you cut a tablet.

Having to discard medication that was improperly split can be both annoying and costly.

Finally, splitting tablets can start to get confusing, especially if you take multiple medications. You may not remember which ones you're supposed to split.

Key takeaways

While tablet splitting is possible with some medications, it's usually best to avoid having to do it. 

If you do need to split pills, make sure you talk about it with your healthcare practitioner first and take care to follow best practices when it's time to split them.

Always let any healthcare practitioner know if you take a different dose than the one listed on your prescription label. 

In case there is a potential drug interference, they should know about what could be impacted by the dose.

Halving a tablet FAQs

When taking a new medication or changing your dose, it's normal to have questions. Here are some of the most common questions about splitting tablets.

Can you half a tablet?

Yes, you can sometimes halve a tablet, but it's not always possible or advisable. 

If your tablet has a score or line down the middle, this indicates that it's most likely possible to split it in half. 

You should always talk to your healthcare practitioner first before splitting a tablet, even if it has a score.

How do you break a pill score?

The best way to break a pill score is with a tablet splitting device. 

These are made to handle pills specifically, so you're far less likely to end up with a bunch of dust or a crumbled tablet. 

Don't use kitchen scissors or a knife since those blades are too thick to cleanly split a tablet.

How do you split a tablet?

Most pill splitters have a small compartment that you place the pill in. 

Make sure the scored line is lined up with the blade, then push the blade down to split the tablet.

Is it bad to cut pills in half?

Some pills should never be cut in half. 

These include those with enteric coatings or those that are labelled as "timed-release." 

Tiny tablets, asymmetrical tablets, and gel capsules also shouldn't be split. 

Scored tablets are generally safe to split, as long as you're following instructions and discussing it with your healthcare practitioner first.

What is a scored pill?

A scored pill is a pill with a line that makes it easier to split in half accurately.

Why do pills have a line in the middle?

The line down the middle makes it easier to correctly align the blade of your pill-splitter so that you can know you're accurately splitting a tablet in half. 

It also makes splitting the pill a bit easier mechanically and generally indicates that it's a type of pill that is safe to split.

WRITTEN BY
Felix Team
Updated on:
August 5, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sarah Lasuta
Family Physician, MD, CCFP
Disclaimer

The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Health Guide, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare practitioner.

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