Understanding Extended-Release Medications

By Karen Lee Richards

We're often asked questions about extended-release medications and how they are used.  Following are the most frequently asked questions. 


Q:  What is the difference between extended-release and regular medication?


A:  The active ingredients in regular medications are usually released within 15 to 30 minutes of when they are injested.  Often they are prescribed to be taken three or four times a day.  The active ingredients in extended-release medications are are released over a much longer period of time and are usually taken only once or twice a day. 


The mechanisms by which extended-release medications are released into the body vary according to the medication.  If you want to know more details about the specific mechanism used in a particular medication, ask your pharmacist.  The important thing to know is that the medication is gradually released into your body so that it remains at a more constant level throughout the day.  In the case of pain medications, this can be a good way to provide more consistent pain relief around the clock without the peaks and valleys often experienced when regular tablets are taken every four to six hours. 


Q:  Why can't I cut extended-release tablets in half if I my pain is less some days? 


A:  Extended-release medications should never be cut, chewed, crushed or dissolved.  In most cases, tampering with the tablet damages the mechanism by which the medication is released and you could end up with an overdose because too much is released into your system at once. 


Q:  What acronyms are used  to indicate that a medication is in extended-release form?


A:   Several different acronyms may be used to indicate a medication is extended-release.  Here is a list of the most commonly used:


CA – continuous action or controlled action

CR – constant release, continuous release or controlled release

CD – controlled delivery

ER – extended release

GR – gradual release

LA – long acting

LL – long lasting

LTR – long-term release

PR – programmed release, prolonged release or protracted release

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