What are Benzodiazepines?

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Benzodiazepines are a class of medications used primarily for treating anxiety...however health care providers use benzodiazepine to treat a host of other conditions.

What other conditions are benzodiazepines used for?

Health care providers use benzodiazepines to treat: seizures, insomnia, alcohol withdrawal, nausea, vomiting, depression, and panic attacks.

What are examples of benzodiazepines?

Examples of benzodiazepines include: alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), oxazepam (Serax), temazepam (Restoril) and triazolam (Halcion).

Are there differences between the benzodiazepines?

Yes, the major difference between the benzodiazepines is how fast they work. For example, diazepam (Valium) has a fast onset of action, clonazepam (Klonopin) has an intermediate onset of action and oxazepam (Serax) has a slow onset of action.

How do benzodiazepines work?

Benzodiazepines affect a neurotransmitter in the brain known as gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Benzodiazepines increase the effects of GABA, which in turn reduce the activity of nerves in the brain. Researchers believe the reduced nerve activity in the brain helps relieve anxiety and treat the aforementioned conditions.

What are benzodiazepines side effects?

Benzodiazepine side effects include: sedation, respiratory depression, low blood pressure, dizziness, disorientation, confusion, amnesia, weakness, changes in appetite, headaches and sleep disturbances.

Should individuals taking benzodiazepines stop their medication if they experience any of the aforementioned side effects?

All benzodiazepines can cause physical dependence. Therefore, individuals should NOT abruptly stop taking benzodiazepines. Abruptly stopping treatment may lead to withdrawal symptoms such as: nausea, vomiting, agitation, muscle cramping, tremors and seizures. Always consult a health care provider before discontinuing any medication regimen.

What are benzodiazepines safety concerns?

The major benzodiazepines safety concerns include:

Pregnancy - benzodiazepines may affect child development. Health care providers should be notified if individuals taking benzodiazepines become pregnant.

Drug interactions - benzodiazepines may interact with other medications...be sure to inform health care providers about any other medications (including herbal supplements) that may be taken concurrently with benzodiazepines.

Falls - benzodiazepines have been associated with falls and traumatic injury. Caution is advised.

Drowsiness - benzodiazepines may cause marked drowsiness, which may reduce an individual's ability to drive/operate heavy machinery safely. Caution is advised.

What are benzodiazepines monitoring parameters?

Benzodiazepines' monitoring parameters include: symptoms of anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory status.

About the Author

Marc Macera, PharmD, RPh's picture

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