How to Identify Pills by Shape & Markings

Updated December 15, 2016

Each year the pharmaceutical industry provides hundreds of thousands of medication to the health care industry. Many people will take any number of over the counter and prescription drugs over the course of their lives. Most homes have several types of pills inside at any given time and it is not uncommon to find a loose, unidentified pill in your bathroom cabinet or on the floor. Before you can use the medicine, you must be able to positively identify it.

Examine the unidentified pills closely for identifying characteristics. Look for imprints that look like letters, number or logos. Observe the size, shape and colour patterns on the unidentified pills.

Compare and contrast the unidentified pills with the ones you and the other residents of your home are taking. It may have just been separated from a medicine bottle that you already have.

Consult a pill identification tool (see Resources).These online databases can often identify or at least narrow down the possibilities of identifying the pills. Input all of the identifying characteristics into the pill identification tool and check the results. If you do not get any results, consider just imputing the imprinted logo, numbers or letters into the pill identification tool. This may provide useful information.

Take the unidentified pills to your health care provider. The staff there can often help you identify medication. You can also try your pharmacist for help with the unidentified pills.

Dispose of the unidentified pills if you cannot positively identify them through the steps above. They may be from a foreign country, illegal or not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.


Never take or administer any medication that you are not 100 per cent of the identification. Taking or administering unidentified pills can be both dangerous and illegal.

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About the Author

Michaele Curtis began writing professionally in 2001. As a freelance writer for the Centers for Disease Control, Nationwide Insurance and AT&T Interactive, her work has appeared in "Insurance Today," "Mobiles and PDAs" and "Curve Magazine." Curtis holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Louisiana State University.