Did you know...there are important reasons why your pills all look different?

Editor June 14th, 2011

Q: Why do pills come in all different colors, shapes, and sizes?

A: When it comes to choosing what a certain drug will look like, the drug company can choose from thousands of different colors and shapes. There are no rules that they must follow, but they often choose a combination of color and shape that doesn't already exist in the drug market or that they think makes the pill most attractive to customers. It is a good way of increasing business.

Q: Does the color of a medication make it work better?

A: No, the color does not change the effectiveness of the drug itself. However, patients often think that "flashy"-looking pills work better. Patients can actually get emotionally attached to the way a certain pill looks, and continue buying the expensive brand name drug even though the same drug is available in a much cheaper generic form. All that this does is increases sales for the drug company.

Q: Can colored pills help a patient take their medications?

A: Yes, a big benefit of having pills that look different is that they can be easier to identify. The unique color and shape of drugs can help a patient recognize which pills need to be taken and when. Also, the unique look of different pills prevents errors by pharmacy staff when they are preparing medications.

Q: Did you ever get a medication refill, but the pill color was different from the last time?

A: If this ever happens to you, ask the pharmacist why your medication looks different before taking the medication. It's possible that you are receiving the wrong drug by mistake. However, it's also possible that the pharmacy simply got their drug supply from a different generic drug company, or you're receiving a different dosage. Generic pills for any single type of medication can look different depending on the drug company that made it. If this is what happened, the drug is the same as before and safe for you to use. It's always a good idea to check with the pharmacist to be sure.

To see an example, and how to act in such a situation, click here:


Q: Why does the same medication sometimes come in different sizes or colors?

A: The size of the pill changes depending on how much medication is in it. The different-sized pills of the same drug often come in different colors too. This is just a way to prevent mixing up pills of higher and lower doses. Also, every drug company makes their drugs a different color, shape, or size to set them apart from other companies' drugs. Just because your pill is a different shape or size as what you're used to, doesn't mean you're necessarily getting the wrong medicine. Always check with your pharmacist to make sure!

-Notice that Zestril (a blood pressure drug) comes in many different colors and sizes depending on the strength or dosage inside each pill.

-This way, the correct strength pill is easily recognized and mistakes can be avoided.

Q: What is the difference between generic and brand-name drugs?

A: Even though the generic and brand-name drugs look different, they contain the same active ingredient and work just as well. So, go ahead and buy the generic if you want to save money, although you may get the less pretty pill.

Compare the drugs above. Notice that they look different, even though they are the same medication and have the same effect on the body. There are laws that do not allow generic and brand name drugs to like alike. For this reason, the generics may contain different inactive ingredients, including coloring and flavoring agents.

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