Corticosteroids are highly toxic drugs, he said. "Thus, by using a five-day versus a 10- to 14-day [course], we will prevent many steroid-related complications -- such as diabetes, osteoporosis and adrenal insufficiency -- without sacrificing any of the benefits of steroids for management of COPD exacerbations," he said. "There is no rationale for giving more steroids than this."
For the study, Leuppi's team randomly assigned more than 300 patients suffering from an acute COPD exacerbation to daily doses of prednisone for either five or 14 days.
The goal of the study was to see whether either treatment resulted in fewer new exacerbations of COPD over six months.
The researchers found that prednisone treatment resulted in about the same number of patients having new bouts of COPD. Among those who got five days of therapy, 56 had a new bout within six months; 57 patients given 14 days of therapy had a new flare-up.
The average time to a new exacerbation of COPD was 43.5 days in the short-term treatment group and 29 days in the standard treatment group, the researchers said.
Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said that "while treatment with corticosteroids is often necessary in exacerbations of COPD, it has not been clear how long the treatment should be given."
"The authors found that a shorter duration of treatment with steroids was possible," he said. "The accompanying side effects were less, and total dose of steroids was less long term."
To learn more about COPD, visit the American Lung Association.
SOURCES: Jorg Leuppi, M.D., Ph.D., department of medicine, University Hospital of Basel, Switzerland; Don Sin, M.D., University of British Columbia James Hogg Research Center, and Institute for
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