Influence of N-acetylcysteine on chronic bronchitis or COPD exacerbations: a meta-analysis

Eur Respir Rev. 2015 Sep;24(137):451-61. doi: 10.1183/16000617.00002215.


In order to clarify the possible role of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) in the treatment of patients with chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), we have carried out a meta-analysis testing the available evidence that NAC treatment may be effective in preventing exacerbations of chronic bronchitis or COPD and evaluating whether there is a substantial difference between the responses induced by low (≤ 600 mg per day) and high (> 600 mg per day) doses of NAC. The results of the present meta-analysis (13 studies, 4155 COPD patients, NAC n = 1933; placebo or controls n = 2222) showed that patients treated with NAC had significantly and consistently fewer exacerbations of chronic bronchitis or COPD (relative risk 0.75, 95% CI 0.66-0.84; p < 0.01), although this protective effect was more apparent in patients without evidence of airway obstruction. However, high doses of NAC were also effective in patients suffering from COPD diagnosed using spirometric criteria (relative risk 0.75, 95% CI 0.68-0.82; p = 0.04). NAC was well tolerated and the risk of adverse reactions was not dose-dependent (low doses relative risk 0.93, 95% CI 0.89-0.97; p = 0.40; high doses relative risk 1.11, 95% CI 0.89-1.39; p = 0.58). The strong signal that comes from this meta-analysis leads us to state that if a patient suffering from chronic bronchitis presents a documented airway obstruction, NAC should be administered at a dose of ≥ 1200 mg per day to prevent exacerbations, while if a patient suffers from chronic bronchitis, but is without airway obstruction, a regular treatment of 600 mg per day seems to be sufficient.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine / administration & dosage
  • Acetylcysteine / adverse effects
  • Acetylcysteine / therapeutic use*
  • Bronchitis, Chronic / diagnosis
  • Bronchitis, Chronic / drug therapy*
  • Bronchitis, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage
  • Bronchodilator Agents / adverse effects
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Lung / drug effects*
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Acetylcysteine