Corticosteroids in the treatment of acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
J Andrew Woods,1 James S Wheeler,1 Christopher K Finch,2 Nathan A Pinner3
1School of Pharmacy, Wingate University, Wingate, NC, USA; 2Department of Pharmacy, Methodist University Hospital, Memphis, TN, USA; 3Harrison School of Pharmacy, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA
Background: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic and progressive disease that affects an estimated 10% of the world's population over the age of 40 years. Worldwide, COPD ranks in the top ten for causes of disability and death. Given the significant impact of this disease, it is important to note that acute exacerbations of COPD (AECOPD) are by far the most costly and devastating aspect of disease management. Systemic steroids have long been a standard for the treatment of AECOPD; however, the optimal strategy for dosing and administration of these medications continues to be debated.
Objective: To review the use of corticosteroids in the treatment of acute exacerbations of COPD.
Materials and methods: Literature was identified through PubMed Medline (1950–February 2014) and Embase (1950–February 2014) utilizing the search terms corticosteroids, COPD, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and exacerbation. All reference citations from identified publications were reviewed for possible inclusion. All identified randomized, placebo-controlled trials, meta-analyses, and systematic reviews evaluating the efficacy of systemic corticosteroids in the treatment of AECOPD were reviewed and summarized.
Results: The administration of corticosteroids in the treatment of AECOPD was assessed. In comparison to placebo, systemic corticosteroids improve airflow, decrease the rate of treatment failure and risk of relapse, and may improve symptoms and decrease the length of hospital stay. Therefore, corticosteroids are recommended by all major guidelines in the treatment of AECOPD. Existing literature suggests that low-dose oral corticosteroids are as efficacious as high-dose, intravenous corticosteroid regimens, while minimizing adverse effects. Recent data suggest that shorter durations of corticosteroid therapy are as efficacious as the traditional treatment durations currently recommended by guidelines.
Conclusion: Systemic corticosteroids are efficacious in the treatment of AECOPD and considered a standard of care for patients experiencing an AECOPD. Therefore, systemic corticosteroids should be administered to all patients experiencing AECOPD severe enough to seek emergent medical care. The lowest effective dose and shortest duration of therapy should be considered.
Keywords: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, exacerbation
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