Objective: To determine if deterioration in patients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) during bronchodilator therapy could be slowed by additional treatment with an inhaled corticosteroid.
Design: A 4-year prospective study.
Setting: Twenty-nine general practices in the catchment area of the University of Nijmegen, Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
Patients: The study included 56 patients (28 with asthma and 28 with COPD) who showed an annual decrease in the forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) of at least 80 mL in combination with at least two exacerbations per year during bronchodilator therapy alone. Forty-eight patients completed the study.
Intervention: During the first 2 years of treatment, patients received only bronchodilator therapy (salbutamol, 400 micrograms, or ipratropium bromide, 40 micrograms). During years 3 and 4, they received additional treatment with beclomethasone dipropionate, 400 micrograms two times daily.
Results: Prebronchodilator FEV1 increased 458 mL/y (95% CI, 233 to 683 mL/y) during the first 6 months of beclomethasone treatment; FEV1 then decreased 102 mL/y (CI, 57 to 147 mL/y) during months 7 to 24. The annual decline in FEV1 during beclomethasone treatment was less than the decline of 160 mL/y seen before beclomethasone therapy (difference, 58 mL/y; 95% CI, 2 to 87 mL/y). Only in patients with asthma did beclomethasone treatment improve bronchial hyperresponsiveness (assessed by determining the concentration of histamine that provoked a 20% decrease in FEV1 [PC20]) by 3.0 doubling doses per year (95% CI, 0.8 to 5.2 doses per year). Beclomethasone treatment was associated with improvement in peak expiratory flow rate, alleviation of symptoms, and a decrease in the number of exacerbations in both patient groups.
Conclusions: Adding beclomethasone, 800 micrograms daily, slowed the unfavorable course of asthma or COPD seen with bronchodilator therapy alone. This effect was most evident in asthmatic patients.