Identifying Medication by Appearance

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

We sometimes get questions from our readers asking how to identify medication for many different reasons.

  • One member received her prescription and the pills looked different than previous times and she wanted to make sure she was given the correct medication.

  • One member's mother had dropped her medication for the entire month and our reader was trying to sort out the pills to make sure her mother took the right amount of medication each day.

  • One member found a pill in her son's room and wanted to know what medication it was.

Not all of these relate to anxiety, but I wanted to address this with you. Safety is always important, and in an effort to making sure you and your family members are taking the correct medication and the correct dosage takes only a little effort.

Look closely at the medication and take note of:

  • Any imprinting on the pill. This is sometimes in a different color or it can be in the same color, with the letters and numbers regressed on the surface.

  • The color and shade of the medication.

  • The shape of the pill. Is it oval, round, triangular, square or another shape? Is it thin or thick?

  • The size of the pill.

  • Is it a pill, a capsule, a gelcap?

This information is going to be needed in order to properly identify the medication.

Where to Find Information


If you have any questions on your medications, or medications you found, you can visit or call your local pharmacist. He or she should be able to help you identify what the medication is and the purpose of the drug. If you believe you may have been given the wrong medication, do not take any pills before talking with your pharmacist.


There are a number of books available with detailed information on many different medications. For example, The Pill Book, by Dr. Harold Silverman, has information on more than 1,800 different prescription medications with many photographs.

Websites provides a listing of medications, by category, which information on the imprints, the color, the shape and additional information to help you identify medications. The categories for commonly prescribed medications for anxiety are:

Benzodiazepines (alprazolam, clonazepam, diazepam and lorazepam)

Antidepressants (citalopram, escitalopram, fluoxetine, paroxetine and sertraline)

The National Institute of Health has a pill identifier called PillBox. Click on the "Quick Search" and enter the information about the medication you want to identify into the boxes for "Imprint," "Shape," "Color," "Size," and "Scoring." You should be given medications that match your description.

HealthSquare has an extensive database of medications with most descriptions including drug images. If you think you know what the medication may be, you can look it up and scroll through the images to see if your pill matches the pictures. This database also includes information on uses for the medication, side-effects and possible interactions.

If, after all this, you still aren't sure what the medication is, take one of the pills to the pharmacy and ask your pharmacist to identify it.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.