Inhaled bronchodilators for cystic fibrosis

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Oct 19:(4):CD003428. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003428.pub2.


Background: Recurrent wheeze and breathlessness are common in people with cystic fibrosis, and bronchodilators are commonly prescribed. Despite their wide-scale and often long-term use, there is limited objective evidence about their efficacy in cystic fibrosis.

Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of inhaled bronchodilators in children and adults with cystic fibrosis.

Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group Trials Register comprising references identified from comprehensive electronic databases searches, and handsearches of relevant journals and abstract books of conference proceedings. Latest search of the Group's Trials Register: August 2005

Selection criteria: Randomised or quasi-randomised trials comparing inhaled bronchodilators to placebo or another inhaled bronchodilator in people with CF, diagnosed clinically and by sweat or genetic testing and at all stages and severity of lung disease.

Data collection and analysis: The authors independently extracted data and assessed trial quality. If data were missing, the primary author was contacted where possible. The data were subgrouped into classes of bronchodilator and for each class into short-term effects (less than one week) and long-term effects (greater or equal to one week).

Main results: The search identified 43 references. Fourteen trials, with a total of 257 participants, were suitable for inclusion. The trials were all cross-over in design; in this case a meta-analysis was not possible. There were varied conclusions from the different trials, reflecting their heterogeneity. Compared to placebo, short-acting beta-2 agonists increased forced expiratory volume at one second (FEV(1)) in the short term in three out of five trials, and in the long-term increased peak expiratory flow rate in individuals who had been shown to have bronchial hyperreactivity or bronchodilator responsiveness or both. Compared to placebo, long-acting beta-2 agonists increased FEV(1) and forced expiratory flow between 25% and 75% of expiratory flow (FEF 25-75%) in the short term in participants known to have bronchodilator responsiveness, but produced inconsistent results in long-term trials. Short acting-anticholinergics had no consistent effect on lung function tests in either the short or the long term. We found no published trials of fenoterol, formoterol or tiotropium and the use of these agents in cystic fibrosis cannot be supported.

Authors' conclusions: It was not possible to determine fully the effectiveness of inhaled bronchodilators in cystic fibrosis as a meta-analysis was not possible. However, both short and long-acting beta-2 agonists can be beneficial both in the short and long term in individuals with demonstrable bronchodilator responsiveness or bronchial hyperrresponsiveness.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / therapeutic use*
  • Adult
  • Albuterol / analogs & derivatives
  • Albuterol / therapeutic use
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / drug therapy*
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity / etiology
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Cystic Fibrosis / complications*
  • Humans
  • Ipratropium / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Salmeterol Xinafoate


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Salmeterol Xinafoate
  • Ipratropium
  • Albuterol