Study on sleep aid Ambien has doctors and patients weighing options

The popular sleep aid medication Ambien can be raising the risk of heart attack by 50 % for some who take it, that’s according to a recent study presented to the American Heart Association.
Joplin resident Jodi Coleman takes an Ambien pill daily. Like many who suffer from sleep disorders, to her Ambien is essential.
“If I don’t take it, the bottom line is I don’t sleep,” Coleman said.
A recent study shows too much Ambien can be a bad thing.
Researchers found taking more than 60 Ambien pills a year can increase the risk of having a heart attack by 50 %.
Most Ambien users take 60 pills every two months.
“Given to the wrong patient, could significantly increase the risk for adverse events,” said Dr. Jose C. DeHoyos, Cardiologist at Mercy Hospital Joplin.
Those risks include heart problems, high blood pressure or even heart attacks.
Experts say it is especially harmful combined with medications like Xanax or Valium.
“Because both of them are similar, so you’re getting so much of that effect,” DeHoyos said.
He says those effects include hallucinations, amnesia, confusion and sometimes sleep walking.
For women taking Ambien to cope with going through menopause, Dr. DeHoyos recommends taking it just once or twice a week and not more than three days at a time.
“It’s recommended that it’s only used as needed, not for every night use,” he said.
Coleman says she has EKG tests taken periodically to ensure that the medication is safe for her and to monitor her heart condition.
“There is a reason they test you for these things, to know what you can take and it’s real important that you listen to your doctor,” she said.
For those who take higher amounts of Ambien than truly needed, the effects are life threatening.
DeHoyos says the drug can also be addictive because some quickly build up a tolerance level.
However, that has not been the case for Coleman.
“For 6 years, it works just as good as it did the day I started it,” she said.
The drug tends to impact everyone differently, meaning some are more at risk than others.
“I know people that have taken Ambien that it didn’t work for, but I swear by it,” Coleman said.
“It’s not that Ambien is not to be given, it just needs to be given to the right population,” DeHoyos said.
He says it should especially not be given to anyone with a history of heart problems or sleep apnea.
Doctors say natural sleep is always the best option.
Some Ambien patients have tried switching to the supplement Melatonin, which does not tend to be addictive.
Other suggestions include avoiding caffeine and electronic devices prior to bedtime.