Drugs & Aging

, Volume 20, Issue 12, pp 867–880

Inhaled Corticosteroids in the Long-Term Management of Patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Leading Article

DOI: 10.2165/00002512-200320120-00001

Cite this article as:
Sin, D.D. & Man, S.F.P. Drugs Aging (2003) 20: 867. doi:10.2165/00002512-200320120-00001


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a major problem in the elderly population, with approximately 10% of the population affected. Since COPD is an inflammatory disorder of the pulmonary system, corticosteroids might be expected to improve clinical outcomes of the disease.

Data from large, well designed randomised clinical trials in which approximately one third of patients were ≥65 years of age indicate that inhaled corticosteroids do not modify the natural history of COPD, as measured by the rate of decline in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1). However, these same studies also suggest that corticosteroids reduce the frequency of clinical exacerbations by nearly a third (compared with placebo). This beneficial effect is particularly pronounced among those with an FEV1 less than 50% of the predicted value. Withdrawal of inhaled corticosteroids, on the other hand, leads to increased symptoms and elevates the risk of exacerbations by 50% above baseline levels. Patients’ health-related quality of life is also improved by the use of inhaled corticosteroids.

It is clear that inhaled corticosteroids elevate the risk of thrush, dysphonia and skin bruising by 2-fold compared with placebo. In addition, the sum of evidence suggests a modest deleterious effect for inhaled corticosteroids on bone mineral density, especially for formulations that have an increased rate of systemic absorption. However, the clinical evidence of this observation is uncertain. The effect of inhaled corticosteroids on fracture risk is controversial with some observational studies suggesting a possible association. Whether inhaled corticosteroids increase the risk of ophthalmic complications (cataracts and glaucoma) is also uncertain.

In conclusion, the current evidence indicates that inhaled corticosteroid therapy produces short- and long-term clinical benefits in COPD patients with moderate-to-severe disease and should be used as adjunctive therapy for elderly patients with COPD who experience frequent exacerbations or have moderately reduced lung function.

Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Department of Medicine, Pulmonary DivisionUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  2. 2.The Institute of Health EconomicsEdmontonCanada
  3. 3.2E4.29 Walter C. Mackenzie CentreUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada