Background: Although inhaled corticosteroids are effective for the treatment of asthma, it is uncertain whether their use can prevent death from asthma.
Methods: We used the Saskatchewan Health data bases to form a population-based cohort of all subjects from 5 through 44 years of age who were using antiasthma drugs during the period from 1975 through 1991. We followed subjects until the end of 1997, their 55th birthday, death, emigration, or termination of health insurance coverage; whichever came first. We conducted a nested case-control study in which subjects who died of asthma were matched with controls within the cohort according to the length of follow-up at the time of death of the case patient (the index date), the date of study entry, and the severity of asthma. We calculated rate ratios after adjustment for the subject's age and sex; the number of prescriptions of theophylline, nebulized and oral beta-adrenergic agonists, and oral corticosteroids in the year before the index date; the number of canisters of inhaled beta-adrenergic agonists used in the year before the index date; and the number of hospitalizations for asthma in the two years before the index date.
Results: The cohort consisted of 30,569 subjects. Of the 562 deaths, 77 were classified as due to asthma. We matched the 66 subjects who died of asthma for whom there were complete data with 2681 controls. Fifty-three percent of the case patients and 46 percent of the control patients had used inhaled corticosteroids in the previous year, most commonly low-dose beclomethasone. The mean number of canisters was 1.18 for the patients who died and 1.57 for the controls. On the basis of a continuous dose-response analysis, we calculated that the rate of death from asthma decreased by 21 percent with each additional canister of inhaled corticosteroids used in the previous year (adjusted rate ratio, 0.79; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.65 to 0.97). The rate of death from asthma during the first three months after discontinuation of inhaled corticosteroids was higher than the rate among patients who continued to use the drugs.
Conclusions: The regular use of low-dose inhaled corticosteroids is associated with a decreased risk of death from asthma.