The effect of maximal doses of formoterol and salbutamol from a metered dose inhaler on pulse rates, ECG, and serum potassium concentrations

Chest. 1991 Jun;99(6):1367-73. doi: 10.1378/chest.99.6.1367.


In a randomized, double-blind, crossover cumulative study, the individual maximal bronchodilator dosages for formoterol (F) and salbutamol (S) were assessed for their respective influence on ECG, pulse rate, and serum potassium levels in 13 patients with stable and reversible asthma. The following dosages were administered with an interval of 1 h: 12-24-48-(48)-(48) micrograms for F and 100-200-400-400-(400)-(400) micrograms for S. The study day was discontinued if pulse rate was above 140 beats min-1, a flattening of T wave on the ECG was recorded, or a maximal bronchodilation in FEV1 was observed (above 110 percent of the predicted value or an increase in FEV1 in the last two measurements below 5 percent). The maximal individual dose of F administered was 84 micrograms in six patients, 132 micrograms in three patients, 180 micrograms in three patients, and 228 micrograms in one patient. For S, the maximal individual dose was 400 micrograms in three patients, 2,200 micrograms in eight patients, 3,000 micrograms in one patient, and 3,800 micrograms in one patient. The mean maximal increase in FEV1 was 36.0 percent after F and 35.1 percent after S. Pulse rate increased from 73 to S3 beats.min-1 after F and from 75 to 84 beats.min-1 after S (both statistically significant). No pulse rate above 140 beats.min-1 was observed. In the high-therapeutic range (up to 36 micrograms of F and 6,090 micrograms of S), no changes in potassium level were observed. In still higher dosages, mean potassium level decreased from 4.16 to 3.78 mmol.L-1 after F and from 4.02 to 3.88 mmol.L-1 after S (not clinically relevant). The lowest individual potassium level recorded was 3.1 mmol.L-1. No clinically important changes in ECG were observed. In conclusion, very high doses of F and S administered from a metered dose inhaler proved to be safe for patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Albuterol / administration & dosage*
  • Albuterol / pharmacology
  • Albuterol / therapeutic use
  • Asthma / blood
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Bronchodilator Agents / pharmacology
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electrocardiography / drug effects*
  • Ethanolamines / administration & dosage*
  • Ethanolamines / pharmacology
  • Ethanolamines / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / drug effects
  • Formoterol Fumarate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers*
  • Potassium / blood*
  • Pulmonary Ventilation / drug effects
  • Pulse / drug effects*


  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Ethanolamines
  • Albuterol
  • Potassium
  • Formoterol Fumarate