Sleeping pills may increase pneumonia risk

U. NOTTINGHAM (UK) — People of all ages taking a commonly prescribed sleeping pill may be more likely to develop—and die from—pneumonia.

Benzodiazepines are used as sedatives for anxiety, epilepsy, muscle spasm, alcohol withdrawal, palliative care, and insomnia. The drug has been associated with an increased incidence of infections and death from sepsis in the critically ill.


“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,” says Richard Hubbard, a professor of respiratory epidemiology at the University of Nottingham.

Hubbard and colleagues looked at 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 practice that had not contracted the condition.

The study, published in the journal Thorax, found that taking benzodiazepine was associated with a 54 percent increased risk of pneumonia and those who did contract it were a fifth more likely to die within a month and a third more like to die within three years.

Current users of the drugs were 90 percent more likely to contract pneumonia whereas past users were 40 percent more likely to contract the lung condition.

“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,” says Puja Myles, a researcher in infectious disease epidemiology.

“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: University of Nottingham