My Medication Looks Different. Should I Take It?

Prevent a prescription mix up with these simple tips.

My Medication Looks Different. Should I Take It?

You pick up your prescription medication refill and head home. But when you take a dose from the new bottle, you notice that instead of the normal white oval pills, these are green and round.

Is it the wrong medication? Should you take it?

This is a common—and potentially anxiety-provoking—problem for patients. There are two main reasons that your pills may not look the same.

It’s the same medication and dose, just a different manufacturer.
With generic medications, several manufacturers could make the same drug, but each could produce it in a different color and form. So, if your pharmacy changes where it buys the medication from, you could end up with a pill that looks different, but is the exact same drug.

Unfortunately, a difference in appearance is enough to cause some patients to stop taking their medications. One study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that the odds a heart patient would stop taking their heart medication went up 34 percent after a change in pill color and 66 percent after a change in pill shape.

Suddenly stopping a medication is potentially dangerous, especially for those with serious conditions such as heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and psychiatric issues. Doing so can lead to dangerous consequences such as dangerously high blood sugar, psychiatric relapses and even heart attack and stroke.

It was a medication fill error.
While rare, this is also a possibility. There could be a mistake in the way the prescription was transcribed, an error reading a doctor’s handwriting or an incorrect drug selected in the pharmacy computer system.

What should you do if your medication looks different? Naturally, you don’t want to take a medication unless you’re sure of what it is. However, you also don’t want to miss one or more doses either.

Here are a few ways to avoid “pill anxiety”:

  1. When you pick up a prescription, ask the pharmacist if you should expect the medication to look different.
  2. Open up the bottle while at the pharmacy counter. If you notice a different look to your pills, ask the pharmacist right away. This is especially important if you need a same day dose or if you’re about to leave on a trip. You don’t want to get to a new destination and wonder if you have the right meds.
  3. If you leave the store without checking your medication, take a look as soon as you get home. If it doesn't appear similar, call the pharmacist right away or return the bottle to the drugstore. Reach out to your healthcare provider, as well, if you have any concerns.
  4. Do a quick at-home check. Go to sites such as the National Institutes of Health “Pillbox” where you can see pictures of the medication you should be taking.
  5. Keep a list of your current medication, along with dosage and a description of the pill. Update it when anything about your prescription changes.

Medically reviewed in July 2019.

Sources:
Kesselheim AS, Bykov K, Avorn J, et al. Burden of Changes in Pill Appearance for Patients Receiving Generic Cardiovascular Medications After Myocardial Infarction: Cohort and Nested Case–Control Studies. Ann Intern Med. 2014;161:96–103.
Drugs.com. “Top 5 Ways to Avoid Drug Errors”
Harvard Health Publishing. “How to manage your medicines”
Drugs.com. “Top 6 Safety Tips for Stopping Your Meds”
UpToDate. “Can drug therapy be discontinued in well-controlled hypertension?”
UpToDate. “Discontinuing antidepressant medications in adults”
Consumer Reports. “What can I do if the pharmacy gives me the wrong drug?”
US Food and Drug Administration. “Working to Reduce Medication Errors”

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