A Journal of the American Geriatrics Society study reveals that the use of medications with anticholinergic effects was associated with a notably higher risk of developing pneumonia in a study of more than 3,000 older adults. For the study, more than 1,000 Group Health patients aged 65 to 94 years who developed pneumonia were compared with a control group of more than 2,000 patients who did not get the disease.

Anticholinergic medications block the neurotransmitter called acetylcholine in the brain and body, and that can cause many side effects, including sedation, confusion, constipation, vision changes, retaining urine, and dry mouth and eyes, according to Science Daily.

Kathleen Paul, MD, MPH, says, “We found a link between both acute and chronic use of anticholinergic medications and a much higher risk for developing pneumonia.” A Science Daily news report notes that acute use meant filling at least one prescription within 90 days before the pneumonia diagnosis and chronic use was filling at least three prescriptions in the prior year.

Sascha Dublin, MD, PhD, senior author of the study, states, “Our study is the first to address whether oral anticholinergic medications affect the risk of pneumonia in older people. 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.”

Paul explains, “It isn’t clear why anticholinergic medications might raise pneumonia risk, but one possibility is that by causing sedation and altered mental status, they raise the risk for breathing problems–and lung infections. But more research is needed.”

Dublin adds, “Many older individuals are taking several medications, and our work confirms that clinicians should review them regularly to identify potential risks. It’s especially important for patients to tell their doctors about any over-the-counter medications that they are taking. Together, patients and providers can weigh the pros and cons–and discuss alternatives, making decisions in a shared way.”

Source: Science Daily