brain waves and testsThe use of benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine-like drugs has been associated with a 20% increase in the risk of stroke in patients with Alzheimer’s disease, a study from the University of Eastern Finland has revealed.

The use of benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine-like drugs was associated with an increased risk of any stroke and ischemic stroke, whereas the association with hemorrhagic stroke was not significant. 

However, due to the small number of hemorrhagic stroke events in the study population, the possibility of such an association cannot be excluded. The findings are important, as benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine-like drugs were not previously known to predispose to strokes or other cerebrovascular events. Cardiovascular risk factors were taken into account in the analysis and they did not explain the association.

The findings encourage a careful consideration of the use of benzodiazepines and benzodiazepine-like drugs among persons with Alzheimer’s disease, as stroke is one of the leading causes of death in this population group. In a previous study the researchers had found that these drugs were associated with an increased risk of hip fracture.

The study was based on data from a nationwide register-based study (MEDALZ) conducted at the University of Eastern Finland in 2005–2011. The study population included 45,050 persons diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and 22% of them started using benzodiazepines or benzodiazepine-like drugs.

The findings were published in International Clinical Psychopharmacology.