To determine whether systemic corticosteroids are of benefit to patients with acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
An English-language search of MEDLINE (1966 to February 2002) and the Cochrane Library and a bibliographic review was performed to identify published clinical trials of systemic corticosteroid administration in acute exacerbations of COPD. All relevant English-language, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials were considered. Trials investigating the adverse effects of systemic steroids were also retrieved. Studies were assigned a quality rating according to explicit criteria. Clinically relevant end points, such as treatment failure and duration of hospital stay, were considered preferentially. To compare outcomes across all qualifying studies, we considered the difference in spirometric measures between treatment and placebo groups. Potential confounding factors and bias relating to patient selection, treatment protocols, and outcome measurement were considered independently for each study.
Among the 8 studies that met all criteria, 5 found that significant improvement in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (>20%) was associated with steroid administration. Two studies found improvement in clinically relevant outcomes. One published study and 2 study abstracts did not find significant improvement in spirometric measures with corticosteroid administration.
Short courses of systemic corticosteroids in acute exacerbations of COPD have been shown to improve spirometric outcomes (good-quality evidence) and clinical outcomes (good-quality evidence).