Interaction between corticosteroid and beta-agonist drugs. Biochemical and cardiovascular effects in normal subjects

Chest. 1992 Aug;102(2):519-24. doi: 10.1378/chest.102.2.519.


The aim of this study was to investigate whether the administration of prednisone potentiates any of the acute biochemical and cardiovascular effects of high-dose inhaled beta-agonist drugs. These agents are known to cause dose-related changes in plasma potassium and glucose, as well as ECG changes in heart rate, corrected QT interval (QTc), T wave, and U wave. On theoretical grounds, the concomitant use of systemic corticosteroids might enhance these actions. Twenty-four healthy subjects were randomized to receive one of three treatments: salbutamol 5 mg or fenoterol 5 mg or normal saline solution. Each drug was administered twice, 30 min apart by nebulizer, and the procedure was repeated after each subject had received prednisone 30 mg daily for one week. Plasma potassium and glucose levels were measured, and ECGs were obtained after each treatment, together with 12-h Holter monitoring for arrhythmias. Changes in plasma potassium and glucose following nebulized beta-agonist were significantly greater after treatment with prednisone. Baseline potassium level fell from 3.75 mmol/L (95 percent CI 3.61, 3.89) to 3.50 mmol/L (95 percent CI 3.36, 3.64), and thereafter all values were significantly lower at each time point (p = 0.003). The lowest mean plasma potassium was obtained 90 min after fenoterol administration with prednisone pretreatment: 2.78 mmol/L (95 percent CI 2.44, 3.13). Increases in heart rate and QTc interval following both beta-agonist drugs were significant, but T-wave amplitude reductions did not reach significance. Prednisone treatment did not significantly alter the cardiovascular responses. Supraventricular and ventricular ectopic activity was related to beta-agonist use, but no potentiating effect was noted following steroid treatment. We conclude that the acute biochemical effects of beta-agonist administration are augmented by prior treatment with prednisone, but this is not the case for ECG effects. However, the degree of hypokalemia noted as a result of this drug interaction may be of clinical significance in the hypoxic conditions of acute airways obstruction.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / pharmacology*
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena
  • Cardiovascular System / drug effects*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Electrocardiography / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prednisone / administration & dosage
  • Prednisone / pharmacology
  • Reference Values
  • Time Factors


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Prednisone