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Study Finds 40% of Americans Have Trouble Swallowing Pills

Effects on medication adherence

MILWAUKEE, Jan. 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Results of a first-ever nationwide survey of adults on pill-swallowing difficulties, conducted by Harris Interactive(R), reveal that a large percentage (40%) of American adults have experienced difficulty swallowing pills, even though most have had no problems swallowing food or liquid. Of those who experience difficulty swallowing their medications, 14 percent have delayed taking doses of their medication, 8 percent have skipped a dose and 4 percent have discontinued using their medication.

Another surprising finding is that fewer than one quarter of adults who have difficulty swallowing their medication have ever discussed the problem with a health professional. For a scant 14 percent of these patients surveyed, their health professional brought up the topic of pill-swallowing difficulty, and only ten percent initiated the conversation themselves.

"Never before has there been a broad, comprehensive study of this under-recognized problem, and the findings are disturbing," said H. Worth Boyce, Jr., M.D., Professor of Medicine, Hugh F. Culverhouse Chair in Esophagology, Director, Joy McCann Culverhouse Center for Swallowing Disorders, University of South Florida College of Medicine. "It is alarming that so many Americans are challenged to swallow needed medications, and many are not adhering to the medication treatment recommended by their doctor. Nonadherence and failure of patients to inform their doctor can result in serious health consequences. In addition, patient nonadherence can limit physicians' ability to successfully treat patients, and can increase the cost of health care."
The online survey of 679 adults (513 ages 18-64, 166 age 65 and older), through an educational grant funded by Schwarz Pharma, Inc., probed the scope, rationale, coping strategies and consequences of the problem.
Some key findings are:

* Nearly one in five people who have taken oral medications have
hesitated prior to taking pills because they thought they might
have trouble swallowing them. Most people who have hesitated
attribute their hesitation to the size of the pill (84%), followed by
its shape (29%).

* One in ten people have chosen pills, other than a vitamin, based on
the anticipation of how difficult they might be to swallow. Women are
more likely to do so (14%) than men (4%).

* To facilitate swallowing, more than half (55%) of those who have had
difficulty swallowing pills drink lots of liquids, 48% drink water in
big gulps, 43% tilt their heads back, and 31% place the pill on the
back of their tongue. Some of the other coping strategies are trying
more than once to swallow the pill (30%), splitting the pill in
two (17%), and taking a deep breath before taking the pill to minimize
a gag reflex (13%).

* About twice as many women (51%) as men (27%) experienced
pill-swallowing problems, and interestingly, more people between ages
18 and 64 reported having these problems (44%) than those age 65 and
older (26%).

* Most people that had problems taking pills described the sensations as
having a pill stuck in their throat (80%), having a bad after taste in
their mouth (48%), or gagging (32%).

* People are trying alternative forms of medication, such as chewable or
rapidly-dissolving tablets. For the majority of people who are unsure
or somewhat likely to try orally dissolving technology, the factors
with the greatest importance underlying their decision are the ability
to easily transport their pills (80%), ease of administration (78%),
and no need for preparation (76%), followed by no need for water when
swallowing pills (65%) and better taste of the pill (61%).

"I am extremely impressed with the thoroughness and timeliness of this recent survey regarding pill swallowing practices and problems in America. It reveals many important issues that need to be addressed by the health care professional and is especially relevant in regard to the need for medical professionals to ask patients about pill-swallowing difficulty even when they have no frank swallowing disorders," said Barbara C. Sonies, Ph.D., Chief, Oral Motor Function Section, Director, Oral Pharyngeal Function and Ultrasound Imaging Laboratory, National Institutes of Health. "The survey also gives us a better understanding of why many individuals do not benefit properly from medications and clearly demonstrates the need for more patient-friendly forms of medication."


Harris Interactive conducted the online study between May 27 and June 4 2003 among a total of 679 adults ages 18 and over, 513 between the ages of 18 and 64, 166 ages 65 and older. Demographic/propensity weights were applied to the data to ensure that the sample is representative of the general adult population in the United States.

About Schwarz Pharma, Inc.

Schwarz Pharma, Inc., based in Milwaukee, WI, is the U.S. affiliate of Schwarz Pharma AG, an international pharmaceutical company with global headquarters in Monheim, Germany and affiliates in all key western markets. With proven expertise in the areas of cardiology, gastroenterology, urology and neurology, Schwarz Pharma is dedicated to the global search and development of new drug therapies in areas that address unmet medical needs.


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