Benzodiazepines and COPD May Be a Bad Combination

COPD patients may find their symptoms become more severe with benzodiazepine medications

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) COPD causes difficult breathing, which can lead to anxiety and insomnia. A new study says a common type of medication used to ease these symptoms may not be the best option for those with COPD.

This new study showed a significant increase in the risk of COPD patients having a severe respiratory event, such as shortness of breath or fits of coughing, when prescribed a benzodiazepine (e.g., Ativan, Xanax) medication.

"Speak with your doctor if your COPD symptoms become more common."

This study was led by Nicholas T. Vozoris, MD, of the Division of Respirology at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Dr. Vozoris and his team analyzed the records of nearly 100,000 seniors across Ontario, Canada collected in the Ontario provincial health administrative databases between 2003 and 2009. All of the seniors had been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Half of the seniors were new users of benzodiazepines — which include such medications as lorazepam (Ativan) and alprazolam (Xanax). The other half had not taken benzodiazepines in at least 12 months. Adverse effects were defined for the study as physician prescribed oral corticosteroid or respiratory antibiotic for COPD, pneumonia or COPD and pneumonia treatments requiring emergency room visits or hospitalization.

The data showed that COPD patients who used benzodiazepines where 45 percent more likely to experience respiratory-related side effects than the group not taking benzodiazepines.

Those taking benzodiazepines also were 92 percent more likely than the benzodiazepine-free group to require emergency room treatment caused by increased severity of their COPD symptoms or the development of pneumonia.

The authors of this study said that benzodiazepines can treat shortness of breath, help with insomnia, which is a common ailment among COPD patients, and help to manage anxiety caused by difficulty breathing.

According to this research team, their study was the first to look at COPD patients who were prescribed benzodiazepines.

Dr. Vozoris and colleagues concluded that there was a statistically significant increase in risk for adverse COPD events when benzodiazepines were prescribed to COPD patients. Physicians who prescribe these medications for patients with COPD should use caution and monitor the patient for respiratory side effects, the researchers wrote.

This study was limited by an inability to show causation because of the observational nature of the study.

This study was published April 17 in the European Respiratory Journal.

This study was funded by a team grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Nutrition, Metabolism and Diabetes.

The authors made no disclosures.

Review Date: 
April 18, 2014
Last Updated:
April 21, 2014