Benzodiazepine Prescribing in People with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Clinical Considerations

David C. Currow, Meera R. Agar

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Benzodiazepines, available clinically for almost six decades, are still one of the most widely prescribed classes of medication. The proportion of the population prescribed benzodiazepines increases with age, and harms also increase with age. The prevalence of prescribing in people > 85 years of age is as high as one in three, including in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The prevalence of COPD also increases with age. In COPD, indications cited for prescribing a benzodiazepine include anxiety, sleep disorders, or chronic breathlessness. Each of these symptoms is prevalent in the population with COPD, especially later in the course of the illness. For anxiety and insomnia, there is evidence to support short-term use, with little robust evidence to support prescribing for the symptomatic reduction of chronic breathlessness. People prescribed benzodiazepines are more likely to experience drowsiness or somnolence, exacerbations of their COPD, and respiratory tract infections. Furthermore, the longer people take benzodiazepines, the more likely they will become dependent on them. Prescribing patterns vary internationally but prescriptions of longer-acting benzodiazepines are declining in favour of shorter-acting compounds. Other evidence-based therapies that can more safely treat these problematic symptoms are available. For people already taking benzodiazepines, there are a number of interventions that have been shown to reduce the rate of prescribing. For people with COPD and not taking a benzodiazepine, but with symptoms where there is evidence of benefit, clinicians should weigh carefully the potential net benefit and prescribe at the lowest dose for the briefest time possible.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-270
Number of pages8
JournalDrugs and Aging
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Benzodiazepines
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
  • drug side effect risk
  • age risk
  • older patients


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