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Pills work as well as IV steroids for COPD

June 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD is the fourth leading cause of death nationwide. The disease can destroy normal lung tissue making it difficult to breathe. Those hospitalized with COPD are often treated with steroids. A new study shows patients given low-dose oral steroids do just as well, if not better, than those given the high-dose IV therapy.For many COPD patients, breathing is not something they take for granted.

"I have to think about breathing 60 minutes of every hour, it's a heck of a nuisance," said Francis Welch, a COPD patient.

Welch smoked most of his adult life and now is one of millions of Americans who lives with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

Nine out of 10 times, COPD patients who end up in the hospital are given a high-dose of intravenous steroids to help open up their lungs, but the treatment comes with side effects.

Researchers thought there had to be a better way. In a report provided by the Journal of the American Medical Association, scientists studied patients at 400 hospitals to see if low-dose steroid pills worked just as well.

"We found that patients treated with low-dose oral therapy had similar if not better outcomes than the patients in the high-dose intravenous group, yet they were spared the risks associated with high-dose steroid exposure," said Dr. Peter K. Lindenauer, Baystate Medical Center.

Researchers also show oral steroids can cut down on IV lines which are uncomfortable for patients and more expensive.

"They tended to spend on average one day less in the hospital and incurred costs that were approximately $500 less per case," said Dr. Lindenauer.

Researchers say if COPD patients end up in the hospital, they should ask their doctor if low-dose oral therapy would be effective.

Doctors estimate 24 million people in the U.S. have impaired lung function, and nearly 13 million have been diagnosed with COPD. This makes COPD an under-diagnosed and under-treated disease.


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