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Study links meds for sleep and anxiety to increased risk of death

By Lynn Curwin     Sep 9, 2010 in Health
Laval - Taking sleeping pills or anxiety medication could increase a person’s risk of dying, according to a University of Laval study.
Dr. Geneviève Belleville, a professor at the school of psychology at the Canadian university, found that those who had taken medication for anxiety or insomnia during the previous month had a mortality rate of 15.7 per cent, compared to a 10.5 per ent rate for those who had not taken them.
After controlling for factors that might affect the risk of death, such as alcohol and tobacco consumption, physical health, physical activity level and depression, Dr. Belleville established that the medication was associated with a 36 percent increase in the risk of death.
“These medications aren’t candy, and taking them is far from harmless,” Dr. Belleville said in a press release. “Given that cognitive behavioral therapies have shown good results in treating insomnia and anxiety, doctors should systematically discuss such therapies with their patients as an option. Combining a pharmacological approach in the short term with psychological treatment is a promising strategy for reducing anxiety and promoting sleep.”
There may be an increase in deaths among those taking the drugs because they can affect reaction time, alertness, and coordination – possibly resulting in falls and other accidents. They may also inhibit the respiratory system, aggravating breathing problems during sleep. Because they are central nervous system inhibitors they may also affect judgment and increase the risk of suicide.
The information used by Dr. Belleville came from Statistics Canada's National Population Health Survey, which included 12 years of data on more than14,000 Canadians between the ages of 18 and 102.
Details of the study are in the latest edition of the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.
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