Taking Medication with Dysphagia (Swallowing Disorder)

August 1, 2023

Dysphagia is a medical condition that refers to difficulty swallowing. It can occur due to various factors such as neurological disorders, structural changes in the head and neck, or muscular impairment. As many as 1 in every 6 adults experience dysphagia. It’s common, and becomes even more of a problem as people age. 

What is dysphagia? 

In a healthy swallow, material (saliva, drink, food, medication) enters the mouth, gets pushed backwards and a swallow is triggered. During the swallow, a small flap called the epiglottis flips down to cover the airway and the vocal folds close to direct food away from the trachea (windpipe) and into the esophagus (food tube). A swallowing disorder is what happens when something goes wrong during any of these steps. 

Symptoms of dysphagia include: 

  • coughing or choking
  • regurgitating food/liquid through the nose or mouth
  • sensation of food being stuck in the throat or chest 
  • recurrent chest infections (aspiration pneumonia) 
  • weight loss over time


Dysphagia and taking medication

Dysphagia can also make taking medications problematic. People with dysphagia may have the feeling that pills get stuck or may be at risk for aspiration (when matter goes in to the airway or “down the wrong way”) causing discomfort, risk of chest infection or reducing the effectiveness of the medication. 

If you experience dysphagia, you will want to consult your healthcare provider for how to manage it. A speech-language pathologist can assess and provide recommendations as to what textures of food to eat, techniques on how to swallow more safely and effectively, or exercises you can do to improve your swallow. 

Compounding pharmacies and dysphagia management

Your pharmacist can help with information on how you can best manage your swallowing recommendations while taking your medication. A compounding pharmacy can offer even more specialized support by doing the following:

  1. Changing the form: A compounding pharmacy can change the form of the medication and make it easier to swallow. Based on the type of medication, they can create liquid formulations, sublingual (under the tongue), transdermal creams or gels. These may be easier to swallow or eliminating the need to swallow. While some forms may be okay to modify yourself, such as crushing and putting in applesauce, you will want to consult your pharmacist to ensure the medication is safe to crush before taking.
  2. Adjusting the dosage: Dysphagia may affect how well the body absorbs medication. A compounding pharmacy can adjust the dosage to ensure the patient receives the correct amount of medication for their specific needs. 
  3. Combining medications: A compounding pharmacy can possibly cut down on the number of pills a person needs to swallow by compounding multiple compatible medications into one dosage.    

Consider using a compounding pharmacy to customize medications for a safer and more effective approach to managing health conditions. At Pace Pharmacy we understand the need to look at the whole person when providing care and this means not only looking at what medications are being prescribed, but how they can best be administered. Talk to one of our pharmacists about managing your medications alongside your swallowing disorder.