Inhaled Steroids May Slow COPD

Use of Inhaled Steroids May Help Preserve Lung Function

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 30, 2003
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 30, 2003 -- Treating people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) with inhaled steroids may help slow the loss of lung function caused by the disease by up to 30%.

Researchers say the use of inhaled steroids in COPD treatment is controversial but the results of a new study show that long-term use of the drugs may help slow the progression of the disease.

COPD is an irreversible disease that gradually causes the lungs to deteriorate, making it progressively difficult to breathe. Smoking is almost always the cause of COPD.

Although the effect of inhaled steroids on reducing the rate of lung decline is much less than the effect of quitting smoking, researchers say many people with COPD refuse to stop smoking and may benefit from use of inhaled steroids.

Inhaled Steroids Stall Lung Decline

The study of more than 3,700 patients with COPD looked at the results of eight clinical trials on the use of inhaled steroids for more than two years. The study appears in the November issue of the journal Thorax.

Researchers found that use of the drugs slowed the rate of decline in a major measure of lung function known as forced expiratory volume (FEV), which is the amount of air a person can exhale in one second.

Compared with people not taking inhaled steroids, nonsmokers with COPD taking the drugs for at least two years experienced a 26% to 33% lower rate of lung decline -- smokers had a 13% to 17% reduction. Higher doses of the drugs were associated with greater benefits.

In comparison, smoking cessation is associated with a 50% reduction in lung deterioration in people with COPD.

But researchers found those who continued to smoke during COPD treatment with inhaled steroids still reaped some of the benefits of the drugs.