Standing, sitting or laying down: How should you take your medicine?

Standing, sitting or laying down: How should you take your medicine?

Picture this: After a long day’s work, your headache has reached the point where you can’t ignore it any longer. Desperate for relief, you hunt down a bottle of ibuprofen, fill a glass of water and, standing at the sink, swallow the pills.

But should you be standing? Maybe sitting, or even lying down, would be better?

Researchers posed that question in a study recently published in the journal Physics of Fluids. They used a simulated model of the human stomach to replicate what happens in the body after pills are taken orally.

Four body positions were evaluated: standing or sitting upright, lying flat on the back, lying down and turned to the right and lying down and turned to the left.

The findings showed that changes in body position can have up to an 83% effect on the emptying rate of the active drug into the small intestine. Lying down on your right side was shown to be the best position for quick absorption. The medication was dissolved twice as fast than taking a medicine when standing or sitting upright.

“Our stomach is J-shaped with the lower opening that leads to the top of the small intestine located on our right side. While the results of this study are hypothesis-generating, and may not generalize to all patients, it makes sense that when we lay down on the right side that it allows for anything we eat to be fast-tracked into the deepest part of the stomach,” says Tom Dilworth, pharmacist and director of clinical pharmacy services at Advocate Aurora Health based in Milwaukee, Wis. “Medications are mostly absorbed in the small intestine, so reaching that area faster would mean it would take effect more quickly.”

Conversely, the simulation found that lying on your left side was the worst position to be in for quick absorption. When compared to a typical upright position, it took the medication up to five times longer to reach the small intestine when lying on the left side. “This may have potential benefits in the cases of drug overdose,” says Dilworth.

Although the simulation showed how body position can affect absorption rate, it did not account for variance in factors such as age, sex or medical considerations.

“It’s important to note that everybody’s organs are unique and so results will vary from person to person,” says Dilworth. “And body position only appears to affect the speed with which medications are absorbed. You will ultimately get the same therapeutic benefits from the drug no matter your body position.”

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Julie Walters

Julie Walters is the manager of research communications at Advocate Aurora Health.