Are short courses of antibiotic therapy as effective as standard courses for COPD exacerbations? A systematic review and meta-analysis

Pulm Pharmacol Ther. 2022 Feb;72:102111. doi: 10.1016/j.pupt.2022.102111. Epub 2022 Jan 13.


Background: The best duration of antibiotic treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations is uncertain.

Objective: To evaluate whether a short course of antibiotic therapy is as effective as the standard longer treatment for exacerbations of patients with COPD.

Methods: We searched Pubmed/MEDLINE and trials in relevant systematic reviews from the inception up to March 2021, with no language restrictions. Randomised controlled trials comparing short-course antibiotic therapy (≤5 days) with standard antibiotic therapy (≥6 days) for exacerbations of patients aged ≥40 with spirometrically-confirmed COPD were included. Three outcomes were considered: end-of-therapy clinical cure, bacterial eradication and adverse events. Statistical analyses included random effects meta-analyses using odds ratios and assessment of heterogeneity.

Results: Of 1274 citations found, eight were eligible for inclusion, seven of which recruited outpatients. Overall, short-course antibiotic treatments were not significantly different from those of long-course treatments for clinical cure (odds ratio [OR] 1.14, 95% CI 0.91; 1.44) and for bacterial eradication (OR 1.16, 95% CI 0.91; 1.48). Adverse events were observed in 379 (21.1%) patients receiving short-term antibiotic regimens, while 412 (22.8%) patients receiving the standard regimens reported adverse events (OR 0.83, 95% CI 0.62; 1.11). The heterogeneity of the studies was low.

Conclusion: In relation to clinical and bacteriological efficacy, a short course of antibiotic treatment is equivalent to longer conventional treatment in mainly outpatients with exacerbations of COPD. Moreover, shorter exposure to antibiotics may decrease the risk developing antimicrobial resistance and, hence, might become first-line therapy for the management of ambulatory COPD patients.

Keywords: Anti-bacterial agents; Chronic obstructive; Drug resistance; Exacerbations; Meta-analysis; Microbial; Pulmonary disease; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Bacterial Agents* / adverse effects
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / drug therapy


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents