Prescription sleeping pills increase risk of premature death, cancer

GlobalPost

People who take prescription sleeping pills just twice a month are nearly four times more likely to die prematurely, according to new research.

And those prescribed sleeping pills may also be more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, researchers from San Diego's Scripps Clinic found, ABC News reported.

An estimated 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders, according to ABC News. The researchers said that between 6 and 10 percent of US adults were prescribed sleeping pills in 2010.

As part of the study, published by the open-access online journal BMJ Open, the Scripps team compared the electronic medical records of nearly 10,000 adults prescribed such FDA-approved sleep medications as Ambien, Restoril, Lunesta, and Sonata with adults of the same age, gender and general level of health who were not.

Those took less than 18 pills a year were 3.6 times more likely to die than their counterparts who weren't prescribed the pills, NewsCore reported.

Those taking the highest dose of sleeping pills were 35 percent more likely to suffer from cancer than those who did not take the drugs.

"What our study shows is that sleeping pills are hazardous to your health and might cause death by contributing to the occurrence of cancer, heart disease and other ailments," author Daniel F. Kripke, M.D. said, the Times of India reported.

While the doctors were able to establish a statistical link between the consumption of sleeping pills and premature death and illness, they could not provide a cause for their findings.

The New York Daily News, meantime, cited sleep disorder experts as cautioning that the underlying causes of insomnia also needed to be treated.

"There are a lot of people who are taking Ambien or other sleeping pills every night and that is risky and addicting," Lenox Hill Hospital psychiatrist Dr. Bryan Bruno, told the paper.

"Doctors are not often looking for the underlying reasons for the insomnia, such as anxiety, depression or sleep apnea. Those are the things that need to be treated, not just the symptom."

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