Background: The role of long-acting, inhaled beta2-agonists in treating asthma is uncertain. In a double-blind study, we evaluated the effects of adding inhaled formoterol to both lower and higher doses of the inhaled glucocorticoid budesonide.
Methods: After a four-week run-in period of treatment with budesonide (800 microg twice daily), 852 patients being treated with glucocorticoids were randomly assigned to one of four treatments given twice daily by means of a dry-powder inhaler (Turbuhaler): 100 microg of budesonide plus placebo, 100 microg of budesonide plus 12 microg of formoterol, 400 microg of budesonide plus placebo, or 400 microg of budesonide plus 12 microg of formoterol. Terbutaline was permitted as needed. Treatment continued for one year; we compared the frequency of exacerbations of asthma, symptoms, and lung function in the four groups. A severe exacerbation was defined by the need for oral glucocorticoids or a decrease in the peak flow to more than 30 percent below the base-line value on two consecutive days.
Results: The rates of severe and mild exacerbations were reduced by 26 percent and 40 percent, respectively, when formoterol was added to the lower dose of budesonide. The higher dose of budesonide alone reduced the rates of severe and mild exacerbations by 49 percent and 37 percent, respectively. Patients treated with formoterol and the higher dose of budesonide had the greatest reductions -- 63 percent and 62 percent, respectively. Symptoms of asthma and lung function improved with both formoterol and the higher dose of budesonide, but the improvements with formoterol were greater.
Conclusions: In patients who have persistent symptoms of asthma despite treatment with inhaled glucocorticoids, the addition of formoterol to budesonide therapy or the use of a higher dose of budesonide may be beneficial. The addition of formoterol to budesonide therapy improves symptoms and lung function without lessening the control of asthma.