Imagine the very medicine that is meant to maintain and restore health by preventing certain illnesses is found to do the exact opposite? Well, a recent study released by the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle has found just that.
“Our study is the first to address whether oral anticholinergic medications affect the risk of pneumonia in older people,” says senior author Dr. Sascha Dublin, an associate investigator at the institute.
Anticholinergic drugs block the neurotransmitter acetylcholine responsible for involuntary movement of smooth muscles. They are used for conditions such as allergies (e.g. Benadryl), overactive bladder (e.g. Ditropan) and depression (e.g. Doxepin).
The study shows that there is an increased health risk of pneumonia associated with the use of these medications.
“This is important because so many older people use these medications, and pneumonia is such a common cause of illness and death in this age group,” Dublin adds.
What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lung affecting the alveoli (microscopic air sacs responsible for gas exchange). Some of the most common symptoms associated with the illness include headaches, excessive sweating of the hands and a sharp chest pain that gets increasingly worse with each deep breath or cough.
Although pneumonia is usually caused by infection from a virus or bacteria, it is also, although less commonly, caused by drugs.
The research involved more than 1,000 patients with pneumonia (ages 65 to 94), and another group of over 2,000 people without pneumonia who were matched by age and gender.
The true cause of why anticholinergic medications raise the risk of the illness may be related to the possibility that through sedation and altered mental status, breathing problems and lung infections increase (according to the study by Group Health).
However, it is important to note that the study did not lead to a direct cause-and-effect relationship between use of the drug(s) and pneumonia, but rather an association.
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