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Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen Answer Health and Wellness Questions About the Risks of Long-Term Benzo Use

Dr. Michael Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at Cleveland Clinic and Dr. Mehmet Oz, the famous cardiothoracic surgeon and TV personality have recently answered two readers' questions, shining a light onto pressing health and wellness issues such as having exaggerated reactions to everyday sounds and the effects of long-term use of Xanax, Valium, Ativan and other benzodiazepines. Scientific evidence suggests that there are serious risks associated with long-term use of benzos, particularly in older patients. Family members of elderly people on benzodiazepines are increasingly concerned about the adverse effects of prolonged benzo use on their loved ones' physical and mental health as well as the addictive potential of these drugs which are commonly prescribed for panic attacks, anxiety, and sleep disorders.

Georgia from Fayetteville, NC wrote in her email to that 18 months ago, her 78-year old grandmother was prescribed benzodiazepines for the treatment of her insomnia. Georgia believes that these pills have had terrible effects on her balance, alertness and overall heath, but her grandmother got hooked on them, so she asked the medical experts if she should intervene or not. Dr. Oz answered Georgia's question, emphasizing that, according to a recent study over-prescription and long-term use of this class of drugs is a serious and growing issue that adversely affects elderly people in particular. In 2008 for instance, more than 11 million Americans were prescribed benzodiazepines and about 30% of these patients who used them for more than 4 months were 65 to 80 years old.

Dr. Oz added that several studies have revealed the majority of prescriptions for these tranquilizers are written by primary care clinicians rather than psychiatrists. Elderly patients who use benzodiazepines for more than 120 days may face an increased risk of accidents and falls, along with compromised driving skills, reduced mobility and impaired cognitive functioning and alertness. Dr. Oz advised Georgia to consider the safest way to reduce her grandmother's dependence and to identify those forms of physical activity that her grandmother can really manage (i.e. swimming pool exercises, walking, chair-based yoga etc.) in order to help her improve sleep, reduce anxiety and cope better with benzo withdrawal symptoms. Dr. Oz wrote that an effective and safe intervention consists of supervised and gradual benzo withdrawal ( he stressed that it's very dangerous to stop using benzos abruptly) in combination with psychotherapy.

A wellness-related question came from New York resident Haley O. who wrote that she is profoundly bothered by the sound of her co-worker cracking his knuckles all day long, so she asked the wellness expert if there's something wrong with her. Dr. Mike Roizen, who is also an award-winning author and co-founder of the RealAge service answered that Haley may suffer from misophonia, a neuro-psychiatric condition first identified in 2001 but presently not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual. Dr. Roizen explained that British scientists at Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience conducted a study which involved performing brain scans on patients suffering from misophonia and observed that these patients had an abnormality in the frontal lobe of their brain, an area responsible for controlling emotion.

In other words, people who cannot stand everyday sounds such as the sound of someone breathing loudly, chewing or cracking his/her knuckles next to them, may have such over-the-top reactions because they cannot properly control their emotional response, so their brain goes into overdrive, they begin to sweat and their heart rate goes up. Dr. Roizen advised Haley to limit her exposure to triggers by using earphones or ear plugs, leave the room if the noise is really distressing, close her eyes and take deep breaths to calm the emotional response to those annoying sounds and even try to explain to her co-worker that she may be suffering from a condition known as misophonia.

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