New evidence supports the use of inhaled steroids by people with chronic lung disease.

Doctors disagree over whether regular use of inhaled steroids helps the conditions collectively known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.

COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It usually gets worse over time. In the U.S., COPD is the fourth leading cause of death -- and it's moving fast toward becoming the No. 3 killer.

Now researchers from GlaxoSmithKline report studies showing that regular use of inhaled steroids seem to cut COPD death and hospitalization by 30 percent. GlaxoSmithKline is a WebMD sponsor.

The results "indicate a beneficial association of inhaled corticosteroids and the risk of death or rehospitalization in COPD," report GlaxoSmithKline's Victor A. Kiri, PhD, and colleagues.

The findings appear in the Aug. 15 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

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2 Studies, 1 Result

Kiri's team used data collected by doctors in the U.K. They compared 393 COPD patients treated with inhaled steroids to 393 matched COPD patients who did not get the treatment. The treated patients had 31 percent fewer deaths and hospitalizations.

The researchers then analyzed 2,222 cases of COPD. They found that those treated with inhaled steroids had 29 percent fewer deaths and hospitalizations.

The findings do not prove that inhaled steroids help people with COPD, notes Johns Hopkins researcher Jonathan M. Samet, MD, in an editorial accompanying the Kiri report.

"Reflecting the still incomplete and evolving evidence base, some recent recommendations on the use of inhaled steroids in COPD have been guarded," Samet writes. "The new report by Kiri and co-workers suggests a 30 percent reduction in risk for rehospitalization or death -- a meaningful gain for COPD."

Samet suggests that more definitive proof will come from an ongoing clinical trial with 6,000 COPD patients.

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By Daniel J. DeNoon, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Kiri, V.A. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Aug. 15, 2005; vol 172: pp 460-464. Samet, J.M. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Aug. 15, 2005; vol 172: pp 407-408.