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Bronchodilators in COPD: impact of beta-agonists and anticholinergics on severe exacerbations and mortality.

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Department of Medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California, USA.


This review summarizes the long-term clinical outcomes associated with beta-agonist and anticholinergic bronchodilator use in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Pooled data from randomized placebo-controlled trials of at least three months duration were used to evaluate the risk for COPD hospitalizations, respiratory mortality, and total mortality. The results show that anticholinergic use is associated with a 30% reduction in COPD hospitalizations, a 70% reduction in respiratory mortality, and without a significant effect on total mortality. In contrast, beta-agonist use had no effect on COPD hospitalizations and was associated with a two-fold increased risk for respiratory death compared with placebo. When the two bronchodilators were directly compared with each other, beta-agonists were associated with a two-fold increased risk for COPD hospitalization and a five-fold increased risk for total mortality compared with anticholinergics. When beta-agonists were added to either anticholinergic use or inhaled corticosteroid use alone, there was no significant improvement in any long-term clinical outcome. These results indicate that anticholinergics should be the bronchodilator of choice in COPD, while beta-agonists may be associated with poorer disease control.

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