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Pill-Splitting Potentially Perilous, Study Suggests
Date:1/13/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 13 (HealthDay News) -- The common practice of pill-splitting -- done by patients and health professionals alike to save money or make medications easier to swallow -- is inaccurate and potentially dangerous, a new study suggests.

Belgian researchers found that nearly one-third of split pill fragments deviated from recommended dosages by 15 percent or more. In the study, five volunteers divided eight tablets of various sizes using three tools: a kitchen knife, scissors and a pill-splitting device.

Another 14 percent of split tablets differed from recommended dosages by 25 percent or more, according to the study. And even the most precise method (the splitting device) caused a 15 percent to 25 percent error margin in 13 percent of cases. Each pill fragment was weighed after splitting to determine how much they deviated from theoretical weight.

"In most of the cases and especially in nursing homes, medications are taken as chronic therapies. Very often, it doesn't matter clinically if the patient takes a little more drug one day and a little less the next," said study author Charlotte Verrue, an assistant academic staff member at Ghent University in Belgium.

"However," she added, "it might have consequences when the deviations are bigger [25 percent and more] and when . . . a small deviation in dosage can have an important difference in effect. Just to be safe, we advise to be careful with this splitting practice. It is not as innocent as it might seem."

Verrue said she decided to do the study after being asked by nurses in nursing homes what would be the best method for splitting tablets in daily practice, regardless of the type or size of pill or whether it had score lines.

Of the five volunteers, only one had tablet-splitting experience, Verrue said, which she believes replicates nursing home conditions where pill-splitting is not always per
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