Regular treatment with formoterol and inhaled steroids for chronic asthma: serious adverse events

Christopher J Cates, Roman Jaeschke, Stefanie Schmidt, Montse Ferrer
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013 June 7, (6): CD006924

BACKGROUND: Epidemiological evidence has suggested a link between beta2-agonists and increases in asthma mortality. Much debate has surrounded possible causal links for this association and whether regular (daily) long-acting beta2-agonists are safe when used alone or in conjunction with inhaled corticosteroids. This is an updated Cochrane Review.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the risk of fatal and non-fatal serious adverse events in people with chronic asthma given regular formoterol with inhaled corticosteroids versus the same dose of inhaled corticosteroids alone.

SEARCH METHODS: Trials were identified using the Cochrane Airways Group Specialised Register of trials. Web sites of clinical trial registers were checked for unpublished trial data; Food and Drug Administration (FDA) submissions in relation to formoterol were also checked. The date of the most recent search was August 2012.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Controlled clinical trials with a parallel design were included if they randomly allocated people of any age and severity of asthma to treatment with regular formoterol and inhaled corticosteroids for at least 12 weeks.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used standard methodological procedures expected by The Cochrane Collaboration. Unpublished data on mortality and serious adverse events were obtained from the sponsors. We assessed the quality of evidence using GRADE recommendations.

MAIN RESULTS: Following the 2012 update, we have included 20 studies on 10,578 adults and adolescents and seven studies on 2788 children and adolescents. We found data on all-cause fatal and non-fatal serious adverse events for all studies, and we judged the overall risk of bias to be low.Six deaths occurred in participants taking regular formoterol with inhaled corticosteroids, and one in a participant administered regular inhaled corticosteroids alone. The difference was not statistically significant (Peto odds ratio (OR) 3.56, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.79 to 16.03, low-quality evidence). All deaths were reported in adults, and one was believed to be asthma-related.Non-fatal serious adverse events of any cause were very similar for each treatment in adults (Peto OR 0.98, 95% CI 0.76 to 1.27, moderate-quality evidence), and weak evidence suggested an increase in events in children on regular formoterol (Peto OR 1.62, 95% CI 0.80 to 3.28, moderate-quality evidence).In contrast with all-cause serious adverse events, the addition of new trial data means that asthma-related serious adverse events associated with formoterol are now significantly fewer in adults taking regular formoterol with inhaled corticosteroids (Peto OR 0.49, 95% CI 0.28 to 0.88, moderate-quality evidence). Although a greater number of asthma-related events were reported in children receiving regular formoterol, this finding was not statistically significant (Peto OR 1.49, 95% CI 0.48 to 4.61, low-quality evidence).

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: From the evidence in this review, it is not possible to reassure people with asthma that regular use of inhaled corticosteroids with formoterol carries no risk of increasing mortality in comparison with use of inhaled corticosteroids alone. On the other hand, we have found no conclusive evidence of serious harm, and only one asthma-related death was registered during more than 4200 patient-years of observation with formoterol.In adults, no significant difference in all-cause non-fatal serious adverse events was noted with regular formoterol with inhaled corticosteroids, but a significant reduction in asthma-related serious adverse events was observed in comparison with inhaled corticosteroids alone.In children the number of events was too small, and consequently the results too imprecise, to allow determination of whether the increased risk of all-cause non-fatal serious adverse events found in a previous meta-analysis on regular formoterol alone is abolished by the additional use of inhaled corticosteroids.We await the results of large ongoing surveillance studies mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for more information. Clinical decisions and information provided to patients regarding regular use of formoterol have to take into account the balance between known symptomatic benefits of formoterol and the degree of uncertainty associated with its potential harmful effects.

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