Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Could sleeping pills lead to an early death?

Next time you're tossing and turning, unable to sleep, think twice about popping a pill.

New research from scientists at the Scripps Clinic, led by Dr. Daniel Kripke and published in the British Medical Journal Open, has found that taking sleeping pills twice a month can make you up to four times more likely to die prematurely, reports the Telegraph.

As a result, researchers are recommending alternative therapeutic treatments instead.

The study looked at 10,500 people who were on a variety of sleeping pills like tamazepam, zolpidem and diazepam and compared those taking sleeping tablets with others who had similar lifestyle and health factors, but were not on the pills. Researchers found that those taking higher doses of the drugs were also one-third more likely to develop cancer.

Scientists discovered that those taking higher does of tamezepam were six times more likely to die in the next two-and-a-half years, while patients frequently taking zolpidem were 5.7 times as likely to succumb to premature death.

Sleeping pills are also thought to increase depression risk.

"The meagre benefits of Hypnotics [sleeping pills], as critically reviewed by groups without financial interest, would not justify substantial risks," Dr. Kripke wrote.

"A consensus is developing that cognitive-behavioural therapy of chronic insomnia may be more successful than hypnotics."

Nina Barnett, spokesperson on older persons medicines for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. told the paper: "This is an important study and although it is unlikely to radically change prescribing in the immediate term, it should raise awareness and remind both patients and prescribers to the potential risks of sedative use for insomnia.

"The association between mortality and sedation is not new and this research tells us is that people who took these medicines were more likely to die than people who didn't take them. However it does not mean that the deaths were caused by the medicine.

"Patients should not stop taking any prescribed medicines straight away. If you are concerned about your medicines discuss this with your pharmacist or Doctor about other ways of getting help with sleep problems so you don't have to use medicines."

Professor of clinical psychopharmacology at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London, Malcolm Lader, also warned of the dangers of stopping medication abruptly, explaining that patients could suffer epileptic fits and withdrawal symptoms. He also said that patients should not panic as a result of these findings.

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