Patient Care

Inhaled Corticosteroids Decrease Inflammation in Moderate to Severe COPD


Clinical question: Does long-term inhaled corticosteroid therapy, with and without long-acting beta-agonists, decrease airway inflammation and improve lung function in patients with moderate to severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

Background: Guideline-recommended treatment of COPD with inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta-agonists improves symptoms and exacerbation rates; little is known about the impact of these therapies on inflammation and long-term lung function.

Study design: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

Setting: Two university medical centers in the Netherlands.

Synopsis: One hundred one steroid-naïve patients, ages 45 to 75 who were current or former smokers with moderate to severe COPD, were randomized to one of four regimens: 1) fluticasone for six months, then placebo for 24 months; 2) fluticasone for 30 months; 3) fluticasone and salmeterol for 30 months; or 4) placebo for 30 months. The primary outcome was inflammatory cell counts in bronchial biopsies/induced sputum. Secondary outcomes included postbronchodilator spirometry, methacholine hyperresponsiveness, and self-reported symptoms and health status. Patients with asthma were excluded.

Short-term fluticasone therapy decreased inflammation and improved forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1). Long-term therapy also decreased the rate of FEV1 decline, reduced dyspnea, and improved health status. Discontinuation of therapy at six months led to inflammation relapse with worsened symptoms and increased rate of FEV1 decline. The addition of long-acting beta-agonists did not provide additional anti-inflammatory benefits, but it did improve FEV1 and dyspnea at six months.

Additional studies are needed to further define clinical outcomes and assess the cost benefit of these therapies.

Bottom line: Inhaled corticosteroids decrease inflammation in steroid-naïve patients with moderate to severe COPD and might decrease the rate of lung function decline. Long-acting beta-agonists do not offer additional anti-inflammatory benefit.

Citation: Lapperre TS, Snoeck-Stroband JB, Gosman MM, et al. Effect of fluticasone with and without salmeterol on pulmonary outcomes in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2009;151(8):517-527.

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