How to Identify Pills

Three Parts:Examining the PillUsing a Pill DatabaseTrying Other Means

If you take several different medications, it can be very difficult to keep track of which pill is which. You might also occasionally find a stray pill around the house. If you need to identify a pill for any reasons, there are several options you can use. However, none of these methods are failsafe. Consult a doctor or pharmacist before taking any pill you find.

Part 1
Examining the Pill

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    Look for writing or imprinting. The first and easiest way to identify a pill is by looking for writing or imprinting on the pill.
    • Many pills contain small inscriptions that may be numbers, letters, or a combination of the two. These are usually used to identify the pills. If a person uses a pillbox, for example, they can easily tell which pill is which by the inscription if pills are otherwise similar in color, shape, and size.[1]
    • Inscriptions can be hard to read, especially if you are vision impaired. You may have to use reading glasses or a magnifying lens. You can also ask someone else to help you.[2]
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    Take note of the color. Pills come in a variety of colors. If there is no inscription, a pill can also be identified by factors like this.
    • Pills come in a variety of colors, like blues, whites, and tans. Do not just take note of the color, however, but the specific hue or shade. The more specific information you have, the easier it will be to identify the pill.[3]
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    Identify the shape and size. In addition to color, shape and color should be noted.
    • Pills come in a variety of shapes. They can be round, oblong, kidney-shaped, bow-tie shaped, and more. If you're not familiar with geometry, familiarize yourself with different types of shapes. Hexagons, for example, refer to a shape with six even sizes. Octagons have eight even sides. When talking to a pharmacist or using a pill database, you may need to identify a pill in this way.[4]
    • Also, take note of a pill's size. A pill can be small, large, or medium. You will need to have a rough idea of the pill's size when trying to identify its type.[5]

Part 2
Using a Pill Database

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    Use NLM Pillbox. NLM Pillbox is another online resource where you can identify pills based on a variety of factors. It may be slightly more helpful than other online databases as it asks for slightly more criteria.[6]
    • NLM pillbox will ask for the shape, color, and the size. It asks for specific measurements in millimeters, so be sure you have a ruler of some kind.[7]
    • It will, like the other sites, provide you with a catalogue of possible matches with pictures.[8]
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    Contact the FDA. FDA stands for Food and Drug Administration and is a federal agency that promotes public health by monitoring the production of food, drinks, and medications. The FDA can help you identify unknown pills.
    • Email the FDA at with a description of the drug's appearance, including its size, shape, colors, and any markings it has.[9]
    • Someone from the FDA will get back to you as soon as possible with information identifying the drug. They may ask you for more information if the drug cannot be identified based on your initial email.
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    Use a pill identifier through a pharmacy's website. Many nationwide pharmacies, such as CVS and Walgreens, have pill identifiers online.
    • Usually, a database will first ask for any markings the pill has. This is where you would enter the inscription, if any. If there's not an inscription, you will be asked about factors like color, shape, and size.[10]
    • A catalogue of different types of pills will come up when you search, including pictures. You can use this to identify the pill you found.[11]
    • Using a pharmacy you're familiar with can be helpful as you know the pills you're likely to use will be in their database.[12]
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    Go to is a pharmaceutical website that has a feature known as the Pill Wizard which can help you identify pills based on a variety of factors.
    • Much like a pharmacy website, the Pill Wizard asks you for any imprints as well as the pill's shape and color. After you enter this information and hit "search," a catalogue of potential matches will pop up that includes pictures.[13]
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    Call poison control, if necessary. If you've ingested a pill and you're not sure what you've taken, call poison control at 1-800-222-1222. They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you experience symptoms like shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, or any other unusual health concerns after ingesting a pill call 911.[14]

Part 3
Trying Other Means

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    Never take a pill without confirmation from your pharmacist or doctor. Even if you think you've successfully identified a pill, aways get confirmation from a doctor or pharmacist beforehand to make sure you're safe to take the pill. Even if your identification was correct, the pill may be expired or otherwise tampered with.
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    Check your medicine cabinets. If you cannot identify a pill using an online database, you can go check your own medicine cabinets. Look at the pills you have and see if any of them match the one you found. This is probably the quickest and easiest route to identify a pill if you do not have an internet connection or have no luck identifying the pill online.[15]
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    Visit a pharmacy. If your pills do not match any of the pills in your cabinets, go to a pharmacy. A pharmacist should be able to identify the pill for you and tell you whether or not the pill is still safe to take or if it should be thrown out.[16]
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    Dispose of the pill properly if you cannot identify it. If you cannot identify the pill, it's best to throw it away. Depending on where you found it, it could potentially be an illegal medication or one that is harmful to you.
    • Mix the pill in with another substance you're going to throw away, such as cat litter or coffee grounds. Place the mixture in a sealable container and throw it in the garbage.[17]
    • Certain medications are best disposed of by flushing them down the toilet. Find more information on the FDA website here.
    • There are drug disposal services available through most pharmacies.


  • To prevent any future issues identifying pills, try taking a photo of your pills when you get the prescription filled and labeling the photo with the prescription name.


  • If the pill is not found in a pill identifying database, it could possibly be an illegal medication.
  • Be cautious about looking at name brand and generic forms of pills. Many pharmacies offer the generic form of medication.
  • Do not over-handle the pill once it is found. Over handling may wipe away inscriptions, dissolve the pill shape and be harmful due to skin absorption.

Article Info

Categories: Taking Pills and Medicine