Zolpidem is a benzodiazepine receptor agonist that is used for the treatment of insomnia. Zolpidem has rarely been implicated in causing serum enzyme elevations and has not been reported to cause clinically apparent liver injury.
Zolpidem (zol' pi dem) is a non-benzodiazepine, benzodiazepine receptor agonist of the imidazopyridine class that acts by binding to the benzodiazepine (BZ) site on the GABA receptor complex, causing neural inhibition and helping to induce sleep. Zolpidem has selectivity for certain BZ receptor subtypes and does not have the neuromuscular relaxation or anticonvulsant effects of the standard benzodiazepines. Zolpidem has a short half life and rapid onset of action. In multiple placebo controlled trials, zolpidem was shown to decrease the latency to onset of sleep and improve perceived sleep quality with minimal next day residual somnolence or rebound insomnia after withdrawal. Zolpidem was approved for use in the United States in 1992 for the short term treatment of insomnia and is the most commonly prescribed medication for insomnia with more than 10 million prescriptions filled yearly. Zolpidem is available in 5 and 10 mg tablets generically and under the brand name Ambien. The recommended dose is 5 mg taken orally immediately before bedtime. Higher doses should be used with caution as they may result in next-morning impairment in motor activity that may affect driving. Zolpidem is also available in an extended release and in a low dose sublingual form (3.5 mg) for middle-of-the-night awakening. Like the other benzodiazepine receptor agonists, zolpidem is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance (low potential for abuse and limited physical or psychological dependence). Side effects are uncommon, usually mild and may include headache, nausea, dizziness and drowsiness.
In multiple premarketing randomized controlled trials, zolpidem was not associated with an increased rate of serum enzyme elevations in comparison to placebo therapy. A single instance of clinically apparent liver injury has been reported. The onset of injury was 2 days after a single dose of zolpidem and was accompanied by abdominal pain, but no jaundice. The pattern of liver enzyme elevations was hepatocellular and the abnormalities were self-limited, although they seemed to recur on reexposure. Zolpidem is metabolized in the liver by the cytochrome P450 system (predominantly CYP 3A4) and can cause drug-drug interactions, although such interactions are rare. Thus, zolpidem has not been linked to cases of liver injury with jaundice, but rarely may cause transient, mild-to-moderate serum enzyme elevations with or without symptoms.
Likelihood score: E (unlikely cause of clinically apparent liver injury).
Other Drugs in the Subclass, Benzodiazepine
Receptor Agonists: Eszopiclone, Zaleplon
REPRESENTATIVE TRADE NAMES
Zolpidem – Generic, Ambien®
Sedatives and Hypnotics
Product labeling at DailyMed, National Library of Medicine, NIH
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References updated: 20 February 2018
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Dockhorn RJ, Dockhorn DW. Zolpidem in the treatment of short-term insomnia: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Clin Neuropharmacol 1996; 19: 333-40. PubMed Citation (Controlled trial of zolpidem vs placebo in 136 patients with short term insomnia; most common adverse events were headache [32%], daytime drowsiness [5.8%], diarrhea [4.3%] and dizziness [4.3%]; no changes in laboratory test results).
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Hajak G, Bandelow B. Safety and tolerance of zolpidem in the treatment of disturbed sleep: a post-marketing surveillance of 16944 cases. Int Clin Psychopharmacol 1998; 13: 157-67. PubMed Citation (Postmarketing surveillance study in 16,944 German patients given zolpidem for insomnia; side effects were uncommon; no mention of liver injury).
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Gock SB, Wong SH, Nuwayhid N, Venuti SE, Kelley PD, Teggatz JR, Jentzen JM. Acute zolpidem overdose--report of two cases. J Anal Toxicol 1999; 23: 559-62. PubMed Citation (Report of two deaths from suspected zolpidem overdose; no mention of liver injury).
Karsenti D, Blanc P, Bacq Y, Metman EH. Hepatotoxicity associated with zolpidem treatment. BMJ 1999; 318 (7192): 1179. PubMed Citation (53 year old woman with recurrent abdominal pain developed jaundice 2 days after taking a single dose of zolpidem [bilirubin 1.2 mg/dL, ALT 596 U/L, Alk P 134 U/L], resolving rapidly, and symptoms recurring after taking it again [ALT 50 U/L]).
Hajak G, Cluydts R, Declerck A, Estivill SE, Middleton A, Sonka K, Unden M. Continuous versus non-nightly use of zolpidem in chronic insomnia: results of a large-scale, double-blind, randomized, outpatient study. Int Clin Psychopharmacol 2002; 17: 9-17. PubMed Citation (Controlled trial of 14 days of nightly vs interrupted [5 of 7 nights/week] zolpidem in 789 patients with insomnia; side effects were mild and self-limited; no mention of hepatotoxicity).
Roblin X, Boudemaghe T, Paris F, Pellissier L, Le Gall S. [Unexplained increase in aminotransferases and obstructive sleep apnea syndrome]. Gastroenterol Clin Biol 2002; 26: 416-7. French. PubMed Citation (45 year old woman found to have minor serum ALT elevations [1.5-3 times ULN] without jaundice or symptoms while taking zolpidem, which improved on stopping, but which were subsequently shown to be due to severe sleep apnea).
Terzano MG, Rossi M, Palomba V, Smerieri A, Parrino L. New drugs for insomnia: comparative tolerability of zopiclone, zolpidem and zaleplon. Drug Saf 2003; 26: 261-82. PubMed Citation (Comparison of adverse events and tolerability of three new drugs for insomnia focusing upon CNS symptoms such as headache, drowsiness and fatigue; mentions rare observations suggestive of hepatotoxicity of zolpidem [Karsenti 1999]).
Drover DR. Comparative pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of short-acting hypnosedatives: zaleplon, zolpidem and zopiclone. Clin Pharmacokinet 2004; 43: 227-38. PubMed Citation (Review of mechanism of action, pharmacology, efficacy and adverse effects of 3 non-benzodiazepine hypnotic agents: zaleplon, zolpidem and zopiclone).
Roth T, Soubrane C, Titeux L, Walsh JK; Zoladult Study Group. Efficacy and safety of zolpidem-MR: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study in adults with primary insomnia. Sleep Med 2006; 7: 397-406. PubMed Citation (Controlled trial of a modified release zolpidem vs placebo in 212 patients with chronic insomnia; side effects were mild and similar in frequency with placebo; no mention of ALT elevations or hepatotoxicity).
Roth T, Hull SG, Lankford DA, Rosenberg R, Scharf MB; Intermezzo Study Group. Low-dose sublingual zolpidem tartrate is associated with dose-related improvement in sleep onset and duration in insomnia characterized by middle-of-the-night(MOTN) awakenings. Sleep 2008; 31: 1277-84. PubMed Citation (Controlled trial of sublingual low dose zolpidem vs placebo in 82 patients; side effects were few, mild and transient).
Krystal AD, Erman M, Zammit GK, Soubrane C, Roth T; ZOLONG Study Group. Long-term efficacy and safety of zolpidem extended-release 12.5 mg, administered 3 to 7 nights per week for 24 weeks, in patients with chronic primary insomnia: a 6-month, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, multicenter study. Sleep 2008; 31: 79-90. PubMed Citation (Controlled trial of extended release zolpidem vs placebo for 3 to 7 nights per week for 24 weeks in 1018 patients with chronic insomnia; averse events included headache, anxiety and somnolence; no mention of liver related toxicities).
Walsh JK, Soubrane C, Roth T. Efficacy and safety of zolpidem extended release in elderly primary insomnia patients. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry 2008; 16: 44-57. PubMed Citation (Controlled trial of zolpidem vs placebo in 205 elderly patients with chronic insomnia found no differences in rates of adverse events between zolpidem and placebo; no mention of laboratory test results).
Czopowicz M, Szalus-Jordanow O, Frymus T. Zolpidem poisoning in a cat. Aust Vet J 2010; 88: 326-7. PubMed Citation (16 year old neutered cat was given 5 mg of zolpidem in error and developed stupor and disorientation which responded to hydration and support; there were no changes in preexisting mild elevations of serum enzymes).
Ben-Hamou M, Marshall NS, Grunstein RR, Saini B, Fois RA. Spontaneous adverse event reports associated with zolpidem in Australia 2001-2008. J Sleep Res 2011; 20(4): 559-68. PubMed Citation (Analysis of adverse event reporting in Australia suggested higher odds for "parasomnia", amnesia and hallucinations with use of zolpidem than other hypnotics).
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Drugs for insomnia. Treat Guidel Med Lett 2012; 10 (119): 57-60. PubMed Citation (Guidelines for therapy of insomnia mentions that benzodiazepine receptor agonists such as zaleplon, benzodiazepines, ramelteon and low doses of doxepin are effective and generally safe; the discussion of adverse events makes no mention of ALT elevations or hepatotoxicity of any of the recommended agents).
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placebo-controlled, outpatient study. Sleep 2013; 36: 189-96. PubMed Citation (Among 295 adults with middle-of-the-night awakening treated with either sublingual zolpidem or placebo for 2 weeks, adverse events were similar in both groups; no mention of ALT elevations or liver toxicity).
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based study of drug induced liver injury from Iceland, 96 cases were identified
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fact that zopiclone and zolpidem are among the 25 most commonly prescribed
drugs in Iceland).
https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/UCM335007.pdf (FDA letter warning
of the next-morning impairment including driving ability after use of insomnia
drugs and recommendation of use of lower doses, particularly for women).
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of published reports. Ann Hepatol 2014; 13: 231-9. PubMed Citation (Systematic
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published from 1996 to 2012 identified 176 cases, but none were attributed to
zolpidem or other sedatives or sleeping aids).
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Drug-induced liver injury: results from the hospital-based Berlin Case-Control
Surveillance Study. Br J Clin Pharmacol 2015; 79: 988-99. PubMed Citation (Among 76 cases of suspected drug induced liver injury
and 377 controls enrolled in a German, prospective hospital based registry, 9
cases but also 15 controls had been exposed to zolpidem, a difference that was
not statistically significant).
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899 cases of drug induced liver injury enrolled in a US prospective study
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nervous system, but none were due to zolpidemi or other sedatives or sleeping aids).
for insomnia. Med Lett Drugs Ther 2015; 57 (1472): 95-8. PubMed Citation (Concise review of
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nonprescription and herbal products).
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