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Xanax Boosts Hospitalization Rates in COPD Patients

Update Date: Apr 17, 2014 06:51 PM EDT

Taking Xanax may "significantly increase the risk" of emergency department visits among people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a new study.

Benzodiazepines like Ativan or Xanax may actually promote respiratory problems, including breathing problems and pneumonia in COPD patients, said Dr. Nicholas Vozoris, a respirologist at St. Michael's Hospital.

Researchers said that findings are important as five to 10 percent of the Canadian population has COPD, which also called emphysema. The condition is typically caused by smoking, and past studies show that 30 percent of older Canadians with COPD are prescribed benzodiazepines.

Researchers said that the latest study is the first to look at clinical outcomes of COPD patients prescribed these drugs.

The study involved data from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Studies to identify older adults in Ontario who had been diagnosed with COPD, as well as prescription, health insurance and hospitalization records.

The findings revealed that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease who had been prescribed a benzodiazepine were at 45 percent more likely to suffer worsened respiratory symptoms that require outpatient treatment. These patients were also 92 percent more at risk of needing to visit the outpatient treatment. They were at 92 per cent greater risk of needing to visit an Emergency Department for COPD or pneumonia.

Researchers said the findings held true even after accounting for the severity of the person's illness. For example some people in the study had less advanced COPD and others had more advanced symptoms.

"Physicians, when prescribing these pills, need to be careful, use caution and monitor the patients for respiratory side effects," concluded Vozoris. "Patients also need to watch for respiratory-related symptoms."

The latest research was published online today in the European Respiratory Journal.

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