Four out of ten Americans have pill swallowing difficulties – so if you do experience problems while popping a pill, take heart that you have company. Around 80% of respondents in a survey about difficulties in swallowing pills, attributed the problems to sensations and apprehensions of ending up with a pill stuck in the throat. So, here’s a close look at probable causes that will help you to identify where you are doing it wrongly, and simple remedies to offer relief and to prevent it from recurring. Before that, here’s some information that you probably did not know earlier.

Did you know that you can get Esophagitis when you end up with a pill stuck in the throat?

It is important to note that you can get Esophagitis when you end up with a pill stuck in the throat. So what exactly is the condition about? It refers to the condition where the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach is inflamed due to one of many conditions. When a pill is stuck in the throat, it may end up burning the lining of the throat, resulting in the inflammation. When adequate liquid does not accompany the pill on its way down the throat, you are also likely to experience this burning sensation. This can result in scarring, also known as a stricture of the esophagus which may cause a narrowing of the tube.

Why do pills get lodged in the throat?

If you happen to experience pills getting lodged in the throat frequently, then you need to understand the probable reasons behind it. Here is a look at some of the more common reasons.

  1. Insufficient liquids accompanying the pill when you swallow.
  2. The throat is not lubricated enough for the pill to move through smoothly.
  3. The size of the pill is large, making it difficult for you to swallow it.
  4. The shape of the pill is abnormal (this issue is virtually eliminated as most pills are now designed for swallowing easily).
  5. Improper position while popping a pill.
  6. Cricopharyngeus – pills get stuck in the muscle atop the esophagus

What can be done to prevent ending up with a pill stuck in the throat?

Preventing the condition of ending up with a pill stuck in throat hinges on the reasons behind it happening in the first place. If you have identified the reason or reasons behind it, then you can look at one or more of the following preventive actions that will help you when you pop a pill.


Always sit in an upright position when you take a pill. Never lie down or be in a reclining position when you take a pill. Have you ever seen a nurse make patients take pills when in a lying down position? Probably not. Only in very rare cases, when the patient can never sit fully upright, is he or she helped to a slightly inclined position for taking the pill.

Move your chin down towards your chest when you swallow. This will make it a lot easier for you to swallow anything. This, in fact, moves the cartilage at the back of your tongue and ensures that you do not get Cricopharyngeus, the position where the pill gets lodged.

Stay upright for a sufficiently long time, to let your pill move down without burning or inflaming the esophagus. If you routinely experience a burning sensation or if you always end up with a pill stuck in the throat, then you need to spend at least 15 to 20 minutes in an upright position after you have taken the pills.

The adequate liquid should accompany the pill to help it go down. Remember, this should also be done in consultation with your doctor. Do not overdo it and make your pill swim in liquid – use just the right amount of liquids required to help it go down. Ideally, you do not need more than a full glass of water or liquid. This effectively means 200 ml of water or whatever liquid you take. If you take multiple pills, then you will need more water, but this does not mean that you will require one glass for each pill.

Break down large pills with a pill cutter. Most pills are now marked for easy cutting/splitting. Use a good quality pill cutter to split the pills into two. Ensure that you do not crush or powder the pills as you may end up with a lower dosage. Here is a list of the best pill cutters that you can get on this site.

Help lubricate the throat if permitted. You can try out a mild lubricant that will ease the process of moving the pill down the throat. A good lubricant will coat the throat and help the pill on its way down. However, this can only be used when permitted. Some pills may require to be taken on an empty stomach. Therefore, check with your consulting physician before you opt for this.

Did pill stick in the throat? Follow the Heimlich maneuver used to dislodge stuck objects 

Now that you have got the prevention part behind you, it will be necessary to understand what needs to be done in the event of a pill getting stuck in the throat. Here’s a look at what needs to be done in different scenarios with the Heimlich maneuver.

When you need to help someone with a pill stuck in the throat

When someone has a pill stuck in the throat this is what you should do to help him/her out.

  1. Place yourself behind the individual, and throw one arm around the person’s chest.
  2. Bend the individual gently forward, at the waist.
  3. Using your free hand (the heel of your palm), strike firmly on the back of the individual, right between the shoulder blades. This is intended to dislodge the pill or the object. Strike with just enough force to dislodge, while ensuring that your grip on the person is firm enough. If your grip is not firm enough, the person may move forward, instead of the blow dislodging the object or the pill.  Land five blows in quick succession in the same place.
  4. After landing the blows, roll up your fist and place it on the abdomen, on a spot right above the belly button/navel.
  5. With your other hand, grab the rolled up fist, around the wrist.
  6. Using the hand that has grabbed the fist, use an inward pulling motion. This is intended to create a squeeze with the fist pushing into the abdomen and forcing the lodged pill or object out of the Cricopharyngeus.
  7. This pulling in motion needs to be repeated until the pill comes unstuck. Remember to use an inward plus upward motion when you pull your arms.
  8. The whole process has to be repeated patiently until the object or pill comes unstuck, or till medical assistance arrives.

When you are alone with a pill stuck in the throat

When you end up with a pill stuck in the throat and you happen to be alone, this is what you should do to get the pill out.

  1. Roll up your fist and place it on your abdomen on a spot just above your belly button/navel.
  2. Now, use your other hand to grab the rolled up fist, around the wrist.
  3. Choose a relatively hard surface, for instance, the back of a sofa or a sufficiently high table, and press your abdomen into the edge. Remember, the abdomen will press into the edge, while your hands will be just above the position when the abdomen presses into the edge.
  4. Using your hands and pull/squeeze in an inward and upward motion. This is intended to force the lodged pill out.
  5. You need to repeat this, till the pill gets dislodged.

Remember to follow the preventive steps when you pop a pill. In case you are able to seek medical assistance when a pill is stuck, always remember to do that first as quickly and briefly as possible, before you try out the Heimlich maneuver on yourself or anyone else.

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