Importance of the field: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease characterized by chronic airflow obstruction and a progressive lung function decline. Although widely used, the efficacy of inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) in the treatment of COPD remains a matter of debate.
Areas covered in this review: This article reviews the evidence about the effects of inhaled corticosteroids in the treatment of COPD.
What the reader will gain: Short-term treatment with ICS improves lung function and quality of life; in addition, several studies with longer follow-up have shown less decline over time in quality of life, and fewer exacerbations. By contrast, long-term studies have been unable to show substantial improvement in the decline of lung function in COPD. Based on these findings, it was concluded that the use of ICS did not influence the natural course of COPD. However, this conclusion has been challenged by two subsequent studies, TORCH and GLUCOLD, which both showed a reduction in lung-function decline over time with the use of ICS. These two studies indicate that ICS might indeed influence the natural course of the disease, at least in a subgroup of COPD patients.
Take home message: Further studies are needed to identify which individuals have a favorable short- and long-term response to ICS treatment.