Short-acting bronchodilators for the management of acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the hospital setting: systematic review

Syst Rev. 2018 Nov 29;7(1):213. doi: 10.1186/s13643-018-0860-0.


Background: Currently, there is a lack of guidelines for the use of short-acting bronchodilators (SABD) in people admitted to hospital for acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (AECOPD), despite routine use in practice and risk of cardiac adverse events.

Aim: To review the evidence that underpins use and optimal dose, in terms of risk versus benefit, of SABD for inpatient management of AECOPD and collate the results for future guidelines.

Methods: Medline, Embase, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and International Clinical Trials Registry Platform were searched (inception to November 2017) for published and ongoing studies. Included studies were randomised controlled trials or controlled clinical trials investigating the effect of SABD (β2-agonist and/or ipratropium) on inpatients with a diagnosis of AECOPD. This review was undertaken in accordance with PRISMA guidelines and a pre-defined protocol. Due to heterogeneous methodologies, meta-analysis was not possible so the results were synthesised qualitatively.

Results: Of 1378 studies identified, 10 met inclusion criteria. Narrative synthesis of 10 studies revealed no significant differences in most outcomes of interest relative to dose, delivery via inhaler or nebuliser, and type of β2-agonist used. However, some evidence demonstrated significantly increased cardiac side effects with increased dosage of β2-agonist (45% versus 24%), P<0.05).

Conclusion: This review identified a paucity of methodologically rigorous evidence evaluating use of SABD among AECOPD. The available evidence did not identify any additional benefits for participants receiving higher doses of short-acting β2-agonists compared to lower doses, or based on type of delivery method or β2-agonists used. However, there was a small increase in some adverse events for participants using higher doses of β2-agonists.

Keywords: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; Delivery; Dose; Exacerbation; Hospital; SABA; SAMA; Short-acting bronchodilators; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists / administration & dosage*
  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Cholinergic Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Drug Therapy, Combination / standards*
  • Guideline Adherence / standards*
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Ipratropium / administration & dosage
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / drug therapy*


  • Adrenergic beta-2 Receptor Agonists
  • Cholinergic Antagonists
  • Ipratropium