Comparison of a beta 2-agonist, terbutaline, with an inhaled corticosteroid, budesonide, in newly detected asthma

N Engl J Med. 1991 Aug 8;325(6):388-92. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199108083250603.


Background: The presence of airway inflammation even in mild asthma points to the potential value of antiinflammatory therapy. We compared the effect of an inhaled corticosteroid, budesonide, with that of an inhaled beta 2-agonist, terbutaline, in the long-term treatment of newly detected asthma.

Methods: We studied 103 patients (29 male and 74 female patients 15 to 64 years old) in whom asthma had appeared within the previous year. The patients were randomly assigned in blinded fashion to two treatment groups: one to receive 600 micrograms of inhaled budesonide twice a day, and the other to receive 375 micrograms of inhaled terbutaline twice a day. The study period was two years.

Results: After six weeks of treatment, the patients treated with budesonide tolerated inhaled histamine better than the patients treated with terbutaline (a difference of one doubling dose step, P less than 0.001), and the difference was sustained. Patients' diaries kept during the first three months of the study and during the last month of the first and second years showed budesonide to be more effective than terbutaline in improving peak expiratory flow in the morning (average increase from the pretreatment value, 32.8 liters per minute for budesonide vs. 4.8 liters per minute for terbutaline; P less than 0.001) and in the evening (P less than 0.01). Budesonide was also more effective in reducing the symptoms of asthma (P less than 0.01) and the use of supplemental beta 2-agonist medication (P less than 0.01). Ten patients were withdrawn from the terbutaline group because treatment was insufficiently effective, whereas only one dropped out of the budesonide group. The adverse reactions to both treatments were few and mild.

Conclusions: Antiinflammatory therapy with inhaled budesonide is an effective first-line treatment for patients with newly detected, mild asthma, and it is superior to the use of terbutaline in such patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests
  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Budesonide
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use*
  • Histamine
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Dropouts
  • Peak Expiratory Flow Rate
  • Pregnenediones / administration & dosage
  • Pregnenediones / therapeutic use*
  • Pulmonary Ventilation
  • Terbutaline / administration & dosage
  • Terbutaline / therapeutic use*


  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Pregnenediones
  • Budesonide
  • Histamine
  • Terbutaline