Systemic corticosteroids in the treatment of acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Teresa A. Schweiger, Martin Zdanowicz

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Purpose. The literature was reviewed to determine whether data support current treatment guideline recommendations regarding the use of systemic corticosteroids in the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations. Summary. Exacerbations of COPD are common and can be detrimental to both patient health and health care costs. Corticosteroids are recommended by consensus guidelines for patients during exacerbations of COPD. Although guidelines make very specific recommendations, clinical data are conflicting and inconsistent. A search of the English-language medical literature was performed, and all randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials or meta-analyses that examined the use of systemic corticosteroids in COPD exacerbations were included. Trials that included nebulized corticosteroids were also included as long as they were compared to a systemic corticosteroid and a placebo. Recommendations regarding the use of systemic corticosteroids are not optimal or completely supported. Data support recommendations if patients are treated on an outpatient basis. However, hospitalized patients might also benefit from higher doses of systemic steroids initially, followed by an oral taper dose. Conclusion. In the treatment of COPD exacerbations, systemic corticosteroids improve airflow limitations, decrease treatment failure rates, decrease the risk of relapse, and may improve symptoms and decrease the length of hospital stay. Because of the risks of adverse effects, the lowest dose and shortest duration of corticosteroid therapy that will provide therapeutic benefit should be chosen. The literature suggests that hospitalized patients should benefit from a higher initial dosage of systemic corticosteroids than the 30-40 mg of i.v. or oral prednisolone for 7-10 days recommended in current guidelines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1061-1069
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Health-System Pharmacy
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Dosage
  • Hospitals
  • Lung diseases
  • Prednisolone
  • Protocols
  • Steroids, cortico-
  • Toxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Health Policy


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