Indeed, doctors are becoming increasingly worried about the damage they’re causing to patients’ lungs leading to sickness and death. “Iatrogenic respiratory disease is an important cause of patient morbidity and mortality,” warn doctors at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in the US (Clin Chest Med, 2004; 25: 15-24).
One important culprit is radiotherapy as part of breast cancer treatment, of which pneumonia is a frequent side-effect – and referred to by doctors as a ‘familiar complication’ (Pneumologie, 2004; 58: 404-7).
In some cases, even a blood transfusion can be a cause of pneumonia (Clin Chest Med, 2004; 25: 15-24).
But the major offenders are prescription drugs, which can cause not only pneumonia, but bronchitis and asthma, too. French doctors at the Claude-Bernard University, in Lyon, have pulled together much of the evidence damning many of the world’s most commonly prescribed drugs. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), the most common drugs for arthritis, can produce “often severe bronchospasm”, as can beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors, first-line treatments for heart disease (Rev Mal Respir, 1996; 13: 339-60).
As Dr Saresh Babu of UK’s Southampton General Hospital puts it, “Drug-induced airway disease is a significant problem, and an early diagnosis is essential.” Many iatrogenic lung conditions will improve on withdrawing the offending drug, but others are irreversible (Clin Chest Med, 2004; 25: 113-22).