Corticosteroids for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Pill or liquid form (oral)
Corticosteroid and beta2-agonist combination
Inhaled corticosteroids are usually delivered using a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) but are also often available for dry powder inhalers (DPI).
How It Works
Corticosteroids decrease inflammation in the airways (reducing swelling and mucus production), making breathing easier.
Why It Is Used
Inhaled corticosteroids may be used to treat stable symptoms of COPD or symptoms that are slowly getting worse. Inhaled corticosteroids may decrease the number of COPD exacerbations in people with severe COPD, particularly those with chronic bronchitis and frequent exacerbations.
Corticosteroids may be useful for people who have asthma as a component of their disease.
How Well It Works
Research results on oral corticosteroids for COPD exacerbations show that:
Research on inhaled corticosteroids:
Studies report that combining an inhaled corticosteroid with a long-acting beta2-agonist resulted in:
Combining a corticosteroid with a beta2-agonist and an anticholinergic improved:7
It is not possible to predict who will improve with corticosteroid therapy. Lung function tests (spirometry) can be done before and after using the medicine, to learn if it has helped.
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
The possibility of side effects increases as the dose of the medicine increases. Side effects are less likely to occur when you use the inhaled form of the medicine.
Oral corticosteroids (short-term use)
Common side effects of oral corticosteroids include:
Oral corticosteroids also may increase blood sugar level, which may lead to a type of diabetes caused by the medicine (secondary diabetes). If you already have diabetes, it may make the diabetes harder to control.
Oral corticosteroids (long-term use)
Common side effects of long-term use of oral corticosteroids include:
Common side effects of inhaled steroids include:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported that salmeterol may make breathing more difficult. If your wheezing gets worse after taking salmeterol, call your doctor right away.
Using a device called a spacer with your metered-dose inhaler and rinsing your mouth with water and spitting the water out after inhaling should reduce these side effects.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
Inhaled corticosteroids are preferred to oral corticosteroids for long-term treatment of COPD, because they cause fewer side effects. But low-dose inhaled steroids do not always work as well as high-dose oral steroids.
Long-term treatment with oral corticosteroids is not recommended.8 Although long-term treatment with inhaled corticosteroids reduces the frequency of COPD exacerbations in some people, the long-term risks and whether the benefit is worth the risks of long-term treatment is not known.2
Most doctors recommend that everyone using an inhaler also use a spacer. Use of a spacer is especially important when using an inhaler containing a steroid medicine. But you should not use a spacer with a dry powder inhaler (DPI).
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Advice for women
If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
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