Opioids linked to pneumonia in Alzheimer’s

Opioid analgesics were associated with a 30 per cent increase in the risk of pneumonia in people with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Carried out by the University of Eastern Finland, this is the first study to investigate the connection between opioids and pneumonia.

Researchers concluded that although opioids are important in the treatment of severe acute pain for people with Alzheimer's, treatment using opioids should begin at a low dose and be regularly assessed because there is a risk of patients developing pneumonia. Pneumonia is a severe but common issue for people with Alzheimer’s disease, which can lead to hospitalisation and even death.

The study included 5,623 people with Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed in Finland during 2010-2011 and found that the risk of pneumonia was most significant in the first two months of using opioids. The risk was highest among those using strong opioids, such as oxycodone or fentanyl, but the risk was also increased among those using buprenorphine, tramadol or codeine. People with active cancer were excluded from the study and other diseases and drug use were also recorded.

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