Inhaled steroids may not help COPD sufferers

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that inhaled corticosteroids such as Pulmicort, Azmacort and Flovent, may not be the best choice for all chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients. COPD--which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis--is most often caused by smoking and is the fourth leading cause of death in America. An estimated 15 million people have some form of the disease, and about half of them use an inhaled steroids.

A year-long study indicated that patients who used these inhalers didn't live significantly longer than those who did not. Additionally, the instance of pneumonia was a third higher in those who used inhalers. It's not clear whether the higher pneumonia rates are due to the inhaled steroids, or if the inhalers suppress the immune system, making patients more susceptible to the disease. The study's author's conclude that while inhaled steroids may benefit some, they may be too widely used to treat the condition.

"We already have accepted that inhaled steroids increase the risk of pneumonia in COPD patients," said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. "All medication decisions involve a risk/benefit analysis. Doctors should keep the risk in mind and weigh it against actual benefits, always in full consultation with the patient, who should make the ultimate decision."

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