A class of commonly prescribed sedatives called benzodiazepines have come under scrutiny. You may know them by their brand names such as, Xanax, Ativan, and Valium. New research published in the British Medical Journal “Thorax” shows that there may be an increased risk of pneumonia associated with the use of benzodiazepines and possibly even an increased risk of death from it as well.
Benzodiazepines are very often used to treat the symptoms of panic attacks and anxiety. They also are increasingly being used for symptoms of restless leg syndrome and insomnia. Dr. Robert Sanders, a senior clinical research associate at the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London led a team of researchers to study the risks that this class of drugs poses to patients, especially those who suffer an infection. They looked at historical data from the Health Improvement Network database. Nearly 5000 patients who were diagnosed with pneumonia between the years 2001 to 2002 were compared with 29,500 patients who were not. They compared benzodiazepine use between the two groups as well as, another drug that acts like a benzodiazepine called zopliclone. The analysis showed a 54% higher risk of developing pneumonia in the group that used benzodiazepines. Oddly enough, this also held true for zopiclone. Those who were diagnosed with pneumonia and were also taking benzodiazepines showed a 22% increased risk of death from it after a month’s time. It was 32% increased risk within a 3 year window.
More research needs to be done to try to figure out exactly why these drugs are correlating to a fatal pneumonia. One theory is that these drugs tend to suppress breathing and coughing. In a patient with pneumonia, it is imperative that coughing occur to clear the airways in the lungs.