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Sleeping pills could have harmful side effects for COPD patients

Filed in
  • Sleeping Pills
  • Insomnia

By Lynn Celmer  |  Feb 13, 2013
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Researchers from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto have found that a popular class of drugs commonly used to treat sleep and mood symptoms continues to be frequently prescribed despite being known to have potentially life-threatening side effects. Previous studies have linked benzodiazepines – a medication class that may be used in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to treat symptoms of insomnia, depression, anxiety and shortness of breath – with adverse outcomes, but until now there has been little information on how frequently it's prescribed or who is using it.

"I see a large number of COPD patients taking this medication class to help relieve disease-related symptoms like insomnia, depression and anxiety," said Dr. Vozoris, lead author and respirologist at St. Michael's. "But considering the potential respiratory side-effects, and the well-documented neurocognitive side effects like memory loss, decreased alertness, falls and increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, the high frequency of benzodiazepine use in COPD is very concerning."

COPD, also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, is most commonly caused by smoking in North America. American Thoracic Society-European Respiratory Society guidelines recommend that benzodiazepines be avoided in these patients because of potential respiratory-related side-effects.

The study, published online ahead of print in Drugs and Aging, looked at more than 100,000 adults 66 years and older with COPD in Ontario between 2004 and 2009 to see how many new benzodiazepines were dispensed and the severity of each patients' COPD while on the drug.

The results found that new benzodiazepine dispensing was common and occurred in more than a third of the adults. Use of the drugs was 40 percent more common amongst those with more severe COPD. This group also had the highest number of repeat prescriptions and early refills and benzodiazepines were also commonly dispensed to patients while they were having flare-ups of the disease.

"These findings are new and they are concerning because they tell us that the patients most at risk to be affected by the adverse effects of this drug are the same ones that are using it with the most frequency," Dr. Vozoris said. "This medication could be causing harm in this already respiratory-vulnerable population."

Although benzodiazepines can be effective for helping patients sleep, this medication class has been previously found to affect breathing ability and oxygen levels at night.

"Patients need to hear this and health care providers need to give thought into who they are prescribing this medication class to," Dr. Vozoris said. "We're talking about a very vulnerable sub-group and we may be inappropriately prescribing this medication class to those patients."

Clinical guidelines from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend that sedative hypnotic drugs or benzodiazepines should be supplemented with behavioral and cognitive therapies, that the lowest effective dose should be prescribed and that medication should be tapered when conditions allow.


  1. 1 Mujeebur Rahaman 15 Oct
    Can pulmonary fibrosis patient take zolpidem
  2. 2 American Academy of Sleep Medicine 20 Apr
    Hi Chris, for questions about medication recommendations, we recommend speaking with your doctor or pharmacist.
  3. 3 chris miller 18 Apr
    I have copd and tardive dyskinesia both cause excessive breathing problems should I take Lunesta for sleep
  4. 4 Ivanna santino 11 Feb
    I'm 59 years old and female. I was diagnosed a couple of years ago with COPD and I was beyond scared! My lung function test indicated 49% capacity. After having had flu a year ago, the shortness of breath, coughing and chest pains continued even after being treated with antibiotics. I've been smoking two packs a day for 36 years. Being born without a sternum caused my ribs to be curled in just one inch away from my spine, resulting to underdeveloped lungs. At age 34 I had surgery and it was fixed. Unfortunately my smoking just caused more damage to my already under developed lungs. The problem was having is that I enjoy smoking and don't want to give up! Have tried twice before and nearly went crazy and don't want to go through that again. I saw the fear in my husband and children's eyes when I told them about my condition then they start to find solution on their own to help my condition.I am an 59 now who was diagnose COPD emphysema which I know was from my years of smoking. I started smoking in school when smoking was socially acceptable. I remember when smoking was permitted in hospitals. It was not known then how dangerous cigarettes were for us, and it seemed everybody smoked but i was able to get rid of my COPD lung condition through the help of total cure herbal foundation my husband bought has the right herbal formula to help you get rid and repair any lung conditions and cure you totally with their natural organic herbs. I wish anybody who starts smoking at a young age would realize what will eventually happen to their bodies if they continue that vile habit throughout their life.
  5. 5 Jodi flynn 03 Feb
    I was diagnosed with asthma and copd at the age of 24 yes I did smoke and have recently started again because of the stress I’m going through I’m on benzoes  anti depressant and anti phycotic medication will this affect my asthma /cops
  6. 6 Willinie Jacobs 28 Jan
    I was diagnosed of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in 2012 at the age of 63. I had been a heavy smoker, my symptoms started out with dry cough and shortness of breath, i ended up in the hospital, on a ventilator. I should have known it was coming, but like most smokers, thought it would never happen to me. My COPD got significantly worse and unbearable because of my difficulty catching breath. Last year, i started on a natural COPD Herbal therapy, i read a lot of positive reviews from patients who used the treatment and i immediately started on it. I had great relief with this herbal treatment. I breath very much better now, no case of shortness of breath or chest tightness since treatment. I feel better and breath better!!
  7. 7 Me 25 Nov
    You are all full of crap. There is no cure for emphysema. How much are you idiots getting paid?
  8. 8 Toni Kim White 29 May
    I was diagnose with a comprised  blood disease system, therefore i have to take viral medication(truvada) when i complaine  about the effects about, the doctors added on ambien as part of my i would sleep better. then COPD  became part of my illness, the drs  after 1 year dropped the ambiem saying it was not healthy.I am so pissed off, they just left me hanging???? please give me feed back so i can understand????  thank-you 
  9. 9 Ashley 26 Oct
    For the past 20 years I had been taking allergy shots and they had helped to keep my lungs clear, but after moving across country and being tested by two separate allergists who said I didn't have allergies, but chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) my allergy shots stopped. One and a half years ago I started sweating profusely, worse than during menopause. Water literally dripped off my face. Gradually it started to disappear. The less the sweating became, the more I became breathless until I was gasping for air walking across a room. My lungs started to fill up with mucus which eventually turned into pneumonia. I lost touch with reality.I started on Herbal formula treatment in May 2017, i read alot of positive reviews on their success rate treating COPD disease through their Herbal formula and i immediately started on the treatment. Just 7 weeks into the Herbal formula treatment I had great improvements with MY breething ,I am unbelievably back on my feet again, this is a breakthrough for all COPD Patients.
  10. 10 erika walid 10 Oct
    my mum who is 61 years old but 30 years old in her mind, has was diagnosed with severve copd, she was admitted into hospital in june 09 with an exberation of copd, she was hospitalized less than two months later and i must say alot lot worse, her sats dropped to 47 and me (her daughter) my brother and sister were called as things turned for the worse.she has to go home after a someone in the hospital recommended herbal clinic to us thankfully after three weeks and the shere determination of my mums will to live shes home, she was connected to oxygen 24hours a day, very tired,cant do things for herself. but shes alive!! this is a horrible condition for any human being to have to go thru but i can proudly say she is fully cure of COPD diease
  11. 11 Janice 27 May
    I was told I had emphysema in 1987 when I was 45 years old. I smoked for 30 years, but quit smoking as soon as I was told that I had COPD. Quitting smoking was the hardest thing I ever did. But I knew I would die if I didn't. My health was getting so bad that I needed oxygen 24/7 and was down to 92lbs. Thankfully, in 1999 I got lung volume reduction surgery. It saved my life. I no longer needed oxygen and was able to climb stairs, dance, and travel the world. That good fortune lasted for almost 13 years. I am now back on oxygen 24/7 and can't climb stairs, dance or travel the world. i searched for alternative treatment Online i was introduced to Health herbal clinic by a friend here in the United states she told me they have successful herbal treatment to Emphysema and other lungs diseases. I spoke to few people who used the treatment here in USA and they all gave a positive response, so i immediately purchased the COPD herbal formula and commenced  usage, its totally unexplainable how all the symptoms totally dissapeared, my cough was gone and i no longer experience shortness of breath(dyspnea). Herbs are truely gift from God

  12. 12 levi mila 23 May
    The last thing I will ever do is to believe on MEDICAL drugs intense of  COPD , I am Levi mila, New Zealand. I have been diagnose of COPD  for a period of 3years,I’ve lose all hope that there is no cure and I have been taken medicine to sustain myself. Medicine sent to me, which I took as prescribed for some period of days and I went to the hospital after consuming the medicine and I was confirmed Negative after 3 years of being positive, it is indeed a miracle honestly.
  13. 13 Rhonda penny 16 Dec
    i agree with Michael Crocker that left a comment above Aug.5. I've haves anxiety and depression for along time. Started treatment in 1994. Off and on as I could afford it.i have COPD. Started in 2013. I was a 5 mile runner and worked out 3 to 5 times a week. I lost 89lbs. Great health til this started with a cough and went to 30 percent breathing capacity. Now on air a lot and steroids. I already couldn't sleep. Now it's worse. I've been in psych treatment in house 3 times and since 2013 regular hospital 2 times a year avg for 7-9 days. So the treatment for anxiety and sleep is overwhelming amongst everyday life situations.
  14. 14 Linda 06 Sep
    I was diagnosed with sleep apnea after taking a sleep study. I have a prescription for a benzodiazapine to be used just in emergencies.  I use it rarely.  But I asked about taking it for my sleep study, because I was sure I could not sleep under such adverse conditions.  The technician was concerned about getting a test, so advised me to take it.  I was diagnosed with sleep apnea, even though I don't have any common symptoms.

    If benzodizapines can affect breathing ability and oxygen levels at night, I now seriously doubt the reliability of this test.
  15. 15 Michael Crocker 05 Aug
    My wife Melanie has COPD/emphysema. Xanax works wonderfully for her sleep, anxiety and panic disorder. Her doctors will no longer allow her to use it. I want to know where the line should be drawn when quality of life suffers so much that it out weighs the dangers.