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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 May 11;(5):CD003137. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003137.pub4.

Addition to inhaled corticosteroids of long-acting beta2-agonists versus anti-leukotrienes for chronic asthma.

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Research Centre, CHU Sainte-Justine and the Department of Pediatrics, University of Montreal, Room number 7939, 3175 Cote Sainte-Catherine, Montreal, Qu├ębec, Canada, H3T 1C5.



Asthma patients who continue to experience symptoms despite being on regular inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) represent a management challenge. Long-acting beta(2)-agonists (LABA) or anti-leukotrienes (LTRA) are two treatment options that could be considered as add-on therapy to ICS.


We compared the efficacy and safety profile of adding either daily LABA or LTRA in adults and children with asthma who remain symptomatic on ICS.


We searched the Cochrane Airways Group Specialised Register (up to and including March 2010). We consulted reference lists of all included studies and contacted authors and pharmaceutical manufacturers for other published or unpublished studies.


We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) conducted in adults or children with recurrent asthma that was treated with ICS and where a fixed dose of a long-acting beta(2)-agonist or leukotriene agent was added for a minimum of 28 days.


Two authors independently assessed the risk of bias of included studies and extracted data. We sought unpublished data and further details of study design, where necessary.


We included 17 RCTs (7032 participants), of which 16 recruited adults and adolescents (6850) and one recruited children aged 6 to 17 years (182). Participants demonstrated substantial reversibility to short-acting beta-agonist at baseline. The studies were at a low risk of bias. The risk of exacerbations requiring systemic corticosteroids was lower with the combination of LABA and ICS compared with LTRA and ICS, from 11% to 9% (RR 0.83, 95% CI 0.71 to 0.97; six studies, 5571 adults). The number needed to treat (NNT) with LABA compared to LTRA to prevent one exacerbation over 48 weeks was 38 (95% CI 22 to 244). The choice of LTRA did not significantly affect the results. The effect appeared stronger in the trials using a single device to administer ICS and LABA compared to those using two devices. In the absence of data from the paediatric trial and the clinical homogeneity of studies, we could not perform subgroup analyses. The addition to ICS of LABA compared to LTRA was associated with a statistically greater improvement from baseline in several of the secondary outcomes, including lung function, functional status measures and quality of life. Serious adverse events were more common with LABA than LTRA, although the estimate was imprecise (RR 1.35, 95% CI 1.00 to 1.82), and the NNT to harm for one additional patient to suffer a serious adverse event on LABA over 48 weeks was 78 (95% CI 33 to infinity). The risk of withdrawal for any reason in adults was significantly lower with LABA and ICS compared to LTRA and ICS (RR 0.84, 95% CI 0.74 to 0.96).


In adults with asthma that is inadequately controlled on low doses of inhaled steroids and showing significant reversibility with beta(2)-agonists, LABA is superior to LTRA in reducing oral steroid treated exacerbations. Differences favouring LABA in lung function, functional status and quality of life scores are generally modest. There is some evidence of increased risk of SAEs with LABA. The findings support the use of a single inhaler for the delivery of LABA and inhaled corticosteroids. We are unable to draw conclusions about which treatment is better as add-on therapy for children.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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