The risk/benefit of inhaled corticosteroids in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Marcel Bonay, Catherine Bancal, Bruno Crestani
Expert Opinion on Drug Safety 2005, 4 (2): 251-71
Although inhaled corticosteroids have a well defined role in asthma therapy, their use remains controversial in nonasthmatic, smoking-related chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Some studies have shown an effect of inhaled corticosteroids on airway inflammation in COPD, but the clinical relevance of these results is unknown. Data from five long-term, large studies, provide evidence that prolonged treatment with inhaled corticosteroids does not modify the rate of decline of forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) in patients with COPD and no reversibility to short-acting beta(2)-agonists. FEV1 was slightly improved over the first six months of treatment and lower reactivity in response to methacholine challenge has been observed. Improvement of respiratory symptoms and health status were also reported. A reduction of exacerbations rate was observed in two studies. No survival benefit was demonstrated. Two recent reports suggest that long term use of inhaled corticosteroids in COPD patients improves quality-adjusted life expectancy and is cost-effective. Combination therapy with inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta(2)-agonists have proven benefit in four long term large studies compared to placebo for FEV1, exacerbation rate, symptoms and health status. However, only two studies found that combination therapy was more effective than long-acting beta(2)-agonists alone for symptoms and health status improvement. The long term safety of inhaled corticosteroids is not known in COPD patients but topical adverse effects, and systemic effects such as a decrease of bone density of lumbar spine and femur and cutaneous adverse effects, have been reported after three years of treatment. However, three recent observational studies found a slight increase in the risk of fractures (hip, upper extremities and vertebral) in association with high doses of inhaled corticotherapy.

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