Modeling the effectiveness of nebulized terbutaline for decompensated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients in the emergency department

Medicine (Baltimore). 2016 Aug;95(32):e4553. doi: 10.1097/MD.0000000000004553.


Short-acting β2-agonists (SABA) are widely used in the emergency department (ED) to treat patients with decompensated chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We sought to model the effectiveness of nebulized SABA (terbutaline) on clinically relevant parameters associated with a reduction in work of breathing or respiratory muscle fatigue in decompensated COPD patients admitted to the ED.Forty consecutive decompensated COPD patients (having received at least one dose of nebulized terbutaline during their stay in the ED) were included in an observational cohort study. The terbutaline dose received at time t was expressed as cumulative dose and as a rate (mg/day). The associations between the terbutaline dose and time-dependent outcome parameters (respiratory rate, heart rate, arterial blood gases, and, as a marker of terbutaline's systemic effect, serum potassium) were analyzed using a nonlinear, mixed-effects model. The effect of various covariates influencing terbutaline's effectiveness (baseline characteristics and concomitant treatments) was assessed on the model.Among the investigated patients, a total of 377 time-dependent observations were available for analysis. Neither the cumulative dose nor the dose rate at time t significantly influenced the arterial blood gas parameters or heart rate. The cumulative dose of terbutaline was associated with a lower serum potassium level (P < 0.001) and, less significantly, a lower respiratory frequency (P = 0.036). In a tertile analysis, the need for post-ED hospitalization was not associated with the cumulative dose or dose rate of terbutaline.Overall, the results of our modeling study strongly suggest that terbutaline dose did not influence time-dependent outcomes other than serum potassium, and thus call into question the systematic administration of inhaled SABA to patients admitted to the ED for decompensated COPD.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bronchodilator Agents / administration & dosage
  • Bronchodilator Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy*
  • Terbutaline / administration & dosage
  • Terbutaline / therapeutic use*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • Terbutaline