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Long-Term Antibiotic Use May Lessen COPD Flare-Ups
Date:8/25/2011

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Taking a daily dose of the antibiotic azithromycin may help prevent life-threatening complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), researchers say.

These complications are commonly referred to as acute exacerbations, and they can cause frequent doctor visits and hospitalizations. Although numerous medications are available to help prevent exacerbations, some people still experience several flare-ups a year.

For people with this more serious form of COPD, a new study found that taking azithromycin daily helped to reduce exacerbations. People on the antibiotic had an average of 1.48 exacerbations over a year, compared with 1.83 exacerbations for people who received usual care for COPD.

"We tested whether adding azithromycin to standard therapy would decrease COPD exacerbations, and it did. It was associated with some side effects, but we thought the side effects were limited and the potential benefits for patients with COPD -- in our opinion -- outweighed the potential risks," said the study's lead author, Dr. Richard Albert, chief of medicine at Denver Health, and a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado.

Results of the study are published in the Aug. 25 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

COPD includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The leading cause of COPD is cigarette smoking, according to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Symptoms of an exacerbation -- which often accompany a bacterial or viral infection -- may include worsening cough, wheezing and difficulty breathing.

People with more frequent exacerbations have an increased risk of death and experience a more rapid decline in lung function and quality of life, according to background information in the study.

The current study included 1,142 people who were randomly selected to receive
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