Purpose: To review the literature to determine whether inhaled ipratropium bromide provides additive benefits to adults with acute asthma who are being treated with beta-agonists in an emergency department.
Subjects and methods: English-language studies, both published (1978 to 1999) and unpublished, were retrieved using Medline, Science Citation Index, Current Contents, bibliographic reviews of primary research, review articles, consultation with experts, and the register of Medical Editors' Trial Amnesty. Only randomized, double-blind, controlled trials that enrolled patients having an exacerbation of asthma were included. The main outcome measure was pulmonary function; hospital admission rate was also evaluated.
Results: Ten studies including 1,483 adults with acute asthma were selected (mean age 32 +/- 13 years, 36% men). The overall effect size in SD units of pulmonary function showed a significant benefit from ipratropium (effect size 0.14, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.04 to 0.24, P = 0.008). Study-specific effect sizes ranged from 0.03 to 0.63. This pooled effect size was equivalent to a 10% (95% CI: 2% to 18%) increase in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) or peak expiratory flow in the ipratropium group compared with the control group. Analysis of the four studies that included patients with extreme obstruction (FEV1 or peak flow <35% of predicted at presentation) showed substantial improvement with ipratropium therapy (effect size 0.38, 95% CI: 0.09 to 0.67). In the five trials (1,186 patients) that studied the effect of ipratropium administration on hospital admissions, pooled results revealed that ipratropium reduced admission rates significantly (odds ratio 0.62, 95% CI: 0.44 to 0.88, P = 0.007).
Conclusions: The addition of ipratropium to beta-agonist therapy offers a statistically significant, albeit modest, improvement in pulmonary function, as well as a reduction in the rate of hospital admissions.