Older adults who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be more likely to suffer from serious breathing problems if they take certain sedatives, new research suggests. According to a study published on Thursday in the European Respiratory Journal,benzodiazepines such as lorazepam (Ativan) or alprazolam (Xanax) are associated with a 45 percent increased risk of breathing problems that require outpatient treatment in older COPD patients. These patients were also 92 percent more likely go to the emergency room for pneumonia or COPD, and had a higher risk of being hospitalized for breathing problems.
“Physicians, when prescribing these pills, need to be careful, use caution and monitor the patients for respiratory side effects,” said lead researcher Dr. Nicholas Vozoris in a hospital news release. “Patients also need to watch for respiratory-related symptoms.” He said that benzodiazepines are often prescribed to treat insomnia and anxiety.
Dr. Vozoris, who is a respirologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said that the findings were consistent even after taking into account the severity of COPD.
In the past, Vozoris has done studies showing that 30 percent of older Canadians with COPD are prescribed benzodiazepines. Although the study showed that the sedative medications are associated with a higher risk of breathing problems, it does not prove that one causes the other.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), COPD is a disease that makes breathing difficult; it is progressive, meaning that it worsens over time. Patients with COPD may experience coughing, large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and other symptoms. The leading cause of COPD is cigarette smoking, and most patients with the disease are smokers or former smokers. Millions of people are diagnosed with COPD, and it is the third leading cause of death in the United States.