Background: The efficacy of inhaled corticosteroids in the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) remains controversial because of a lack of placebo-controlled studies. We compared the effect of inhaled fluticasone propionate with placebo in the treatment of patients with COPD.
Methods: We used a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled design. We enrolled from 13 European countries, New Zealand, and South Africa, 281 outpatient current or ex-smokers, aged between 50 and 75 years. They had a forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) of between 35% and 90% of predicted normal values, a ratio of FEV1 to forced vital capacity of 70% or less and bronchodilator reversibility of less than 15%, as well as a history of chronic bronchitis. Patients were randomly assigned fluticasone propionate 500 microg (n=142) or placebo (n=139) twice daily via a metered-dose inhaler for 6 months. The main outcome measures were the number of patients who had at least one exacerbation by the end of treatment, the number and severity of exacerbations, clinic lung function, diary card symptoms and peak expiratory flow and 6 min walking distance.
Findings: 51 (37%) patients in the placebo group compared with 45 (32%) in the fluticasone propionate group had had at least one exacerbation by the end of treatment (p=0.449). Significantly more patients had moderate or severe exacerbations in the placebo group than in the fluticasone propionate group (86% vs 60%, p<0.001). Diary-card and clinic morning peak expiratory flows improved significantly in the fluticasone propionate group (p<0.001, p=0.048, respectively), as did clinic FEV1 (p<0.001), forced vital capacity (p<0.001), and mid-expiratory flow (p=0.01). Symptom scores for median daily cough and sputum volume were significantly lower with fluticasone propionate treatment than with placebo (p=0.004 and p=0.016, respectively). At the end of treatment, patients on fluticasone propionate had increased their 6 min walking distance significantly more than those on placebo (p=0.032). Fluticasone propionate was tolerated as well as placebo, with few adverse effects and without a clinically important effect on mean serum cortisol concentration.
Interpretation: Fluticasone propionate may be of clinical benefit in patients with COPD over at least 6 months. Inhaled corticosteroids may have an important role in the long-term treatment of COPD.