Neurology Expert Forum
benzodiazepines, brain atrophy, and much more...
About This Forum:

This forum is for questions and support regarding neurology issues such as: Alzheimer's Disease, ALS, Autism, Brain Cancer, Cerebral Palsy, Chronic Pain, Epilepsy, Fibromyalgia, Headaches, MS, Neuralgia, Neuropathy, Parkinson's Disease, RSD, Sleep Disorders, Stroke, Traumatic Brain Injury.

Font Size:
A
A
A
Background:
Blank
Blank
Blank
This expert forum is not accepting new questions. Please post your question in one of our medical support communities.
Blank Blank

benzodiazepines, brain atrophy, and much more...

There has some been research correlating long term benzodiazepine use with premature brain atrophy, but the correlation is not definite. Benzos act on the brain in much the same way alcohol does, and long-term alcohol use leads to brain shrinkage. Is benzo induced brain atrophy possible?

First, how would you handle a patient who would benefit from MILD daily benzo use, long-term but is concerned about premature brain atrophy?  Since stress is a high risk factor for MI (since most MI's happen on Monday), which is the lesser of two evils: benzo use, or stress?

Second, define "long-term" use?

Third, is brain atrophy manifest by deficits characteristic of dementia?

Fourth, research has not ruled out the possibility that prolonged cell phone use can cause neurlogical problems (Alzheimer's, Parkinsons)...what do you make of this connection? It seems logical to me that EMF waves can affect the brain both locally and globally.  Is it prudent to minimize cell phone use or use an earpiece?

Fifth, there is a correlation between moderate and severe head injuries and idiopathic alz. disease.  What do you make of the conclusion that sustaining a mod/severe head injury increases one's risk of developing AD?  

Sixth, what is the role of norepinephrine on emotion? If an SNRI does what an SSRI does + more, why isn't it first-line treatment?

Seventh, why is physiologic brain injury often dismissed by clinicians as psychological sequelae?

Eight, what area of the brain controls eye movement?

Ninth, is the Mini-Mental SE sensitive to mild cognitive impairment?

Related Discussions
Avatar_n_tn
The data within the literature has not concluded that benzodiazepines cause brain atrophy. The initial studies reported this, but recent studies did not support this. Therefore, at this time I cannot say whether benzodiazepines cause brain atrophy. I also can not define long term use. These medications have been available since the 70's, and I am sure there are patients who have been using them since then.

Brain atrophy can cause dementia, but also can cause mild cognitive impairment, or no deficits at all. Formal neuropsychological testing can help identify if certain areas of the brain are functioning properly.

I am not aware of the literature on EMF waves and neurodegenerative disorders.

Based on the literature, there is evidence that brain injury may predispose an idividual to dementia of the Alzheimer's type, or excelerate the process. However, whether this is truely pathologically confirmed Alzheimer's is controversial. Therefore, I think it would be reasonable to say that head trauma predisposes an idividual to dementia, and possibly Alzheimer's.

The neurepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors have been associated with causing seizures, and this is one of the main reasons why they are not used as primary therapy. This is not an absolute, and there are many patients who use these medications. However, the SSRI's typically have a better side effect profile, and are used more commonly.

Volitional eye movements are controlled by an area in the frontal lobes bilaterally.

The mini-mental examination may not detect changes in individuals with mild cognitive changes, or individuals with more severe disease who were high functioning before disease onset. A formal neuropsychological evaluation may be helpful in this setting.

I hope this information helps you. I would recommend discussing these issues with your physician for further clarification. Good luck.
8 Comments
Blank
Avatar_n_tn
Since my question has not yet received a response, I'm going to take a few minutes and analyze the issues presented myself, and hopefully the good doctor can clarify, elucidate and correct where necessary.

1. Yes, benzodiazepine induced brain atrophy is indeed possible.  Although the issue has not been studied extensively here in the U.S., studies published in UK journals of medicine indicate that participants in at least one study who had used benzodiazepines for an average of 13.2 years had shrinkage greater than their peers in the control group.  Of course, another issue that must be analyzed is whether this correlation is dose-dependent.  By analogy, someone who drinks 6 drinks or more every day for a period of x years is clearly different from the person who drinks 1-2 drinks a day for x years.  Peter Breggin, M.D. also alludes to the correlation between benzodiazepine use and brain atrophy in Chapter 11 of Toxic Psychiatry.

1-A Presented with such a patient, I would recommend at most a mild, therapeutic dose subject to follow-ups.  Since half of all heart attacks cannot be explained by risk factors such as cholesterol, family history, hypertension, and obesity, stress is the greater evil over a therapeutic, mild dose.

2. Long-term means daily for an period greater than 5 years.  Bear in mind, however, that the FDA has approved benzodiazepines for only short-term use up to 12 weeks.  However, the natural flaw is that the people who benefit from benzodiazepines will not only relapse to their pre-treatment anxiety, but also iatrogenic rebound anxiety.  Also bear in mind that 15 million benzodiazepine prescriptions are dispensed every year in the U.S., and 10% (1.5 million people) become addicted each year.  It is actually a significant societal problem with great costs to the system that is justified by attributing addiction to a person's predisposition (i.e., it wasn't the benzodiazepine, but the person taking it who was predisposed to addiction).

3. Cognitive deficits characteristic of brain atrophy are different than the deficits characteristic of dementia.  The former are more localized, the latter more global.  However, that said, both share some fundamental similarities such as shrinkage evinced on CT or MRI.  

4. Cell phone use is generally safe from what we know, up to 3 years. We cannot say what the long-term effects are at this time.  However, there was one study that showed neurological effects in rats after merely 2 hours of exposure.  Caveat emptor -- buyer beware is my recommendation. Like cigarettes during the turn of the century, which were smoked with reckless abandon until people in the mid-1900's starting dying from lung cancer, I surmise that cell phones will come with warnings within a decade or two.

5. The study showed a correlation between idiopathic Alzheimer's disease and moderate to severe head injury in a retrospective study (not as good as prospective) of primarily war veterans relying heavily on self-reporting.  Although somewhat flawed, the correlation seems logical.  Given how little is known about Alzheimer's (hence "idiopathic" -- a fancy way of saying "we don't know why it happens"), and how little is known about head injuries, especially ones that do not induce structural damage, the correlation cannot be definitively proved or disproved.  In any event, protecting the head is the only preventive measure.

6. Norepinephrine affects the limbic system, and is responsible for motivation in large part.  SNRI's (like Effexor) are not first line treatment because they are generally not as well tolerated as SSRI's and have greater potential for interaction by virtue of their added benefit (of inhibiting the reuptake of norepinephrine). Every benefit comes with a potential side effect.

7.  I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing several cranial nerves and the brainstem.

8. Physiologic brain injury is often dismissed a psychological sequelae because the MRI and/or CT does not show structural damage and clinicians have to rely on subjective complaints that often interplay with psychological factors that vary greatly from person to person.  In essence, there is no objective demonstrable way to quantify physiologic brain injury.  It doesn't mean brain injury didn't occur though, and a person could very well have long-lasting or even permanent deficits.  There is an excellent article on the topic by Julie Frank, M.D.

9.  The MMSE is not sensitive to mild cognitive impairment. Neuropsychological testing supposedly is. It provides a baseline.  Unlike neuropsychological testing, the Mini-Mental Status Exam does not take into account a person's level of education.
Blank
Avatar_n_tn
You have my attention and I am concerned and have been concerned about using benzos for over the prescribed time.  I have been having "undiagnosed" tingling, pain, cold, hot, etc., in my limbs, primarily my left arm and shoulder.  There is no rhyme or reason medically to why this is happening (based on conclusions of neuro and rhumatologist).  I do have slight degeneration at C5 & C6, however have been advised this is not the problem.  I also have minimal elevations in some blood tests, but not enough for a lupus our autoimmune diagnosis.  The discomfort is daily, and continuous with ebbs and flows throughout the day.  I am taking ativan three times a day and have been for five months now.  I KNOW that I cannot stop it because when I try, the body trembles and discomfort becomes exaggerated.  I do not like feeling like I am addicted to anything as I have a family history of much addiction.  I have an appointment with a new neuro next week.  All MRIs so far have been basically negative.  How do I take myself off the ativan - what could it be replaced with to ease the symptoms (something that is not addicting itself).  Once a very active, happy person, I am struggling on a daily basis with all of this.  Any ideas.
Blank
Avatar_n_tn
Between the normal MRI you have already had the neurological exam that you will have, that should be sufficient to confirm any suspicions or rule out anything serious.  Both the neurological exam and the MRI are very informative, and you've already had one of them.

Now tell me, what are you taking atvian for? What sort of medication is it? Is it a benzodiazepine?

As for taking benzodiazepines for longer than the prescribed period, my final conclusion is that it is not advisable if you're taking a MODERARATE to HIGH dose.  if you're taking a mild dose, either once a day or titrated in several doses, then I don't envision long-term use becoming a real problem.  Taking a mild dose of benzodiazepine is literally like having a shot or two of whiskey and has much the same effect.  If you either take a moderate to high dose or drink 5 shots of whiskey a night, then you're asking for trouble.  The biggest challenge is staying at that mild dose and not increasing it over time.  Doctors are more concerned about addiction than they are about brain atrophy.  It's very easy to develop a tolerance and increase your dosage over time to the point where it does become dangerous.  And unfortunately, many people who take benzidiazepines daily do develop a tolerance in much the same way we develop a tolerance to alcohol.  So that's the rub.  At mild therapuetic doses, I think it's ok.  At higher doses, it's not.  Bottom line: until you have your symptoms checked out, I'd say keeping taking it, but don't overdo it.  And then have this exact same conversation with your neurologist.
Blank
Avatar_n_tn
I am taking it because for some unknown reason it is the only thing that minimizes the discomfort, cold, hot, tingling in the left arm and shoulder and the tingling in  my right leg.  I am only taking .5, but three times a day, and I have quickly learned that if I need an extra (I don't take it), I drink a beer and that helps, therefore I am aware of how it mimics alcohol. I started taking only 1/2 a pill three times a day in November. My biggest concern is the fact that I DO NOT WANT TO BE ADDICTED.  When I try not to take them I feel much worse and therefore I go back on them.  I will not take more than the .5 3x a day, even if I am in pain.  I would really like just to feel good for a change without the meds.  Hopefully my next trip to the neuro will help.  If not, I will keep looking.  Thanks.
Blank
Avatar_n_tn
Oh - one more thing - it is a benzo . . .
Blank
Avatar_n_tn
Very perplexing indeed.  So you've already been checked out by one neuro, had a battery of tests which didn't show anything significant, and have another appointment with a new neurologist next week.  And in the meantime, you're taking .5 T.I.D. (3 times a day) of Atvian, a benzodiazepine, which is helping you deal with the symptoms, and when you don't take it, you feel worse.

Well, 5 months isn't all that long, and when people talk long-term, they're generally referring to a period of like 5 years or greater.  However, truth be told (as I am a benzodiazepine  user too, currently -- xanax, .25 mg, 3 times  day), it doesn't take 5 years to get addicted; it could take as little as 4 weeks as I am sure you're aware.  There is a psychological addiction (of using it as a crutch, to relax) and a physical component (withdrawal symptoms) so it is in fact a complicated issue.  Now, there are two antidepressants that have an anxiolytic effect: Buspar and Effexor.  Buspar is somewhat controversial and newer, so I wouldn't recommend it.  Effexor however, may reduce anxiety *somewhat* but definitely NOT like benzodiazepines do, which are both quick and effective.  Again, truth be told, and all political correctness aside, honestly the only two options IF you want or need the relief, are alcohol and benzodiazepines.  I know -- it's a tough choice, and a lesser of two evils type of thing.  At least with alcohol, you know what you're getting; a lot remains unknown about the long-term effects of benzos.  But, you can't have a beer or two 3 times a day, so it gets tricky.  Also, as you know, the benzo-induced state of mind is more pleasant and less abrasive.  So I don't know what to tell you.  Hopefully the neurologist can shed some light on your symptoms or they possibly just go away with time.  But there is no easy answer, unfortunately to the benzo question.  Sometimes I feel like I am on my way to addiction (and I used to drink pretty heavily too, but no longer do today, so I know where you're coming from with regard to the addiction angle).  

Bottom line: if you cut your dosage by half, and stayed there, my best guess is that you're not likely to become addicted (in the true sense of the word) and it's not likely to have adverse neurological consequences.  But that's just my best guess, and no doctor -- here or elsewhere -- can tell you with certainty what's a safe dose or what isn't, or how long it's safe to take them without adverse consequences.

In any event, feel free to respond with any thoughts, and please keep me updated on your condition.
Blank
Avatar_n_tn
i was on the benzodiazepine clonazepam and that made me have all types of bizarre symptoms which i spent 6 years of my life running around to neuro specialists trying to figure out what was wrong with me. all tests came back negative. i found the web site www.benzo.org.uk and to my shock and horror the benzo was causing me so much anguish. i had a dislocated neck which was fused before i took the clonazepam for a bit of muscle spasms. while on the benzo i developed the pins and needles, anxiety, twitching/fasciculations, memory loss, nausea/vomiting, severe muscle spasms, pain, hot and cold sensations, numbness all over my body, plus all types of other bizarre symptoms. the neuro people kept telling me it was from my neck. i joined that web site after finding out the truth about benzodiazepines such as valium, clonazepam/klonopin, ativan, xanax, etc. they helped me to taper off safely so that i would not have seizures again which i had when i tried to stop the clonazepam abruptly. i am free of the benzos now and all those bizarre symptoms are gone except for my brain is still not recovered. that is taking a long time. benzos should not be taken for more than 4 weeks maximum. there are quite a lot of people on the benzo.org.uk forum that developed adverse effects after only one week. others go into inter dose withdrawal from the short acting benzos such as xanax within a couple of weeks. the best that anyone can do is to learn all you can about these destructive drugs and taper safely according to Professor Heather Ashton's manual which you can find at benzo.org.uk. good luck all.
Blank
Continue discussion Blank
Blank
Request an Appointment
MedHelp Health Answers
Blank
Weight Tracker
Weight Tracker
Start Tracking Now
RSS Expert Activity
469720_tn?1388149949
Blank
Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm-treatable... Blank
Oct 04 by Lee Kirksey, MDBlank
242532_tn?1269553979
Blank
The 3 Essentials to Ending Emotiona...
Sep 18 by Roger Gould, M.D.Blank
242532_tn?1269553979
Blank
Control Emotional Eating with this ...
Sep 04 by Roger Gould, M.D.Blank