Pharmacologic interventions in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: bronchodilators

Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2007 Oct 1;4(7):526-34. doi: 10.1513/pats.200701-016FM.


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a treatable disease characterized by progressive airflow limitation. Prevention of disease progression, improvement of symptoms, exercise tolerance, health status, and decrease in exacerbations and in mortality are the main goals of the management of COPD. Bronchodilators play a pivotal role in the treatment of symptomatic patients with COPD. Inhaled short-acting bronchodilators are currently recommended for rescue of symptoms in patients with mild disease, whereas inhaled long-acting bronchodilators are recommended as first-line agents for maintenance therapy in patients with moderate and severe disease and those with daily symptoms. Long-acting bronchodilators improve symptoms, exercise tolerance, and health status, and reduce exacerbations in patients COPD. However, their effects on long-term decline in lung function and mortality are currently under investigation. When symptoms are not sufficiently controlled by the use of one bronchodilator, combining bronchodilators of different classes may be a more effective approach. In fact, recent evidence supports the regular use of a combination of a long-acting beta2-adrenoceptor agonist and a long-acting anticholinergic agent in patients with severe COPD. Combining a long-acting beta2-adrenoceptor agonist with an inhaled corticosteroid has also been shown to be more effective than the use of either agent alone. The use of theophylline has declined in recent years because of its narrow therapeutic index, and should be reserved as a third-line option in patients with very severe disease. Several novel bronchodilators are now in different stages of development for use alone or in combination with other agents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / pharmacology
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Bronchodilator Agents / pharmacology*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cholinergic Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Cholinergic Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Half-Life
  • Humans
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology


  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Cholinergic Antagonists
  • Phosphodiesterase Inhibitors