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Is There a Role for Systemic Corticosteroids in the Management of Stable Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-16, 14:16 authored by Wood-Baker, R
COPD, encompassing both chronic bronchitis and emphysema, usually results from exposure to tobacco smoke. Smoking causes infiltration of the airways with leukocytes, an imbalance between proteases and their naturally occurring inhibitors and local cytokine secretion in the lung, which leads to airway inflammation and alveolar destruction. Corticosteroids have a range of anti-inflammatory actions, particularly inhibition of cytokine secretion, which suggests that they may be effective in COPD. However, data from the highest quality studies available do not show any evidence of significant improvement in symptoms of patients with COPD treated with systemic corticosteroids. A meta-analysis found that about 10% of patients with stable COPD showed an improvement in lung function following treatment with short-term systemic corticosteroids compared with placebo. Exercise capacity in patients with COPD was evaluated in four studies, only one of which found a significant improvement with oral corticosteroids compared with placebo. Long-term systemic corticosteroid treatment in patients with stable COPD has not been found to alter the rate of decline in FEV1. Although systemic corticosteroids are associated with a range of adverse effects, the data do not allow precise quantification of their contribution to morbidity. However, studies show an increased risk of osteoporosis in COPD. Recent studies have also found an association between oral corticosteroid administration and mortality in patients with stable COPD, but it is not clear if this is a cause and effect relationship. Current data do not support long-term administration of systemic corticosteroids to all patients with stable COPD. Results of studies suggest that short-term oral corticosteroid administration may identify a sub-population of patients with COPD who may benefit through a reduction in the decline in FEV1 and better control of symptoms by long-term administration of inhaled corticosteroids; these findings need to be tested by further research.


Publication title

American Journal of Respiratory Medicine








Tasmanian School of Medicine


Adis International Ltd

Place of publication

New Zealand

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Clinical health not elsewhere classified

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