Date Published: 7 December 2012
Can sleeping tablets increase the risk of pneumonia ?
Recent research suggests that patients taking benzodiazepines may be at an increased risk of contracting and dying from pneumonia.
Benzodiazepines are a class of commonly prescribed sleeping pills used as sedatives for anxiety, epilepsy, muscle spasm, alcohol withdrawal, palliative care, insomnia and to provide sedation. Although benzodiazepines are widely used by elderly patients, these drugs have also been associated with an increased incidence of infections and death from sepsis in the critically ill.
Recent research conducted by Eneanya Obiora of the School of Community Health Sciences at Nottingham University together with Richard Hubbard, professor of respiratory epidemiology and Dr Puja Myles, expert in infectious disease epidemiology - has been published in the journal Thorax, which deals specifically with respiratory medicine.
The research team considered the cases of just under 5,000 patients of all ages who had been diagnosed with pneumonia. They compared each of them with six similar people, matched by age and sex and drawn from the same GP practice that had not contracted pneumonia. Overall, the study found that taking benzodiazepine was associated with a 54% increased risk of pneumonia and that those who did contract it were 20% more likely to die within a month and 33% more like to die within three years. It was also reported that current users of the drugs were found to be 90% more likely to contract pneumonia whereas past users were 40% more likely to contract the lung condition.
Professor Hubbard said:
" These drugs are commonly prescribed medications that have significant immune effects. Deep sleep induced by these drugs may mean that secretions can build up in the lungs. Our results suggest that they may increase both the risk of and mortality from pneumonia."
Dr Myles said:
" Our results are consistent with data from previous clinical trials which have raised concerns over the effects of these drugs in critically ill patients admitted to intensive care units. These concerns have led to a move away from the use of benzodiazepine sedation. Our findings indicate a significant risk of benzodiazepine exposure on infectious lung disease and given the widespread use of benzodiazepine drugs, further studies are required to evaluate their safety in the context of infection."
Source: Nottingham University, England