The use of benzodiazepines is associated with significantly increased risks of adverse respiratory outcomes in older adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), reports a team of Canadian investigators.

Commonly prescribed for insomnia, anxiety, and breathing issues, benzodiazepines may actually contribute to respiratory problems in older people with COPD.

According to Nicholas Vozoris, MD, a respirologist and lead author of the European Respiratory Journal study, these agents may depress breathing ability and lead to pneumonia.The retrospective population-based cohort study identified adults with COPD who were aged 66 years and older and living in Ontario, Canada, during 2003-2010.

Relative risks of several important respiratory outcomes were examined within 30 days of new benzodiazepine use compared with nonuse.

New users of benzodiazepines were 45% more likely to experience an exacerbation of respiratory symptoms requiring such outpatient treatment as oral corticosteroids or respiratory antibiotics than were nonusers of benzodiazepines.

They also were 92% more likely to visit the emergency department for respiratory complaints, including worsening of their COPD symptoms or the development of pneumonia. The findings were consistent regardless of the severity of the person’s illness.