NEW research provides evidence against using long-acting drug alone

Tuesday, May 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Two new studies have found that using a long-acting, airway-dilating asthma drug by itself can worsen the condition.

Salmeterol xinafoate, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1994 and is among the most popular prescription asthma drugs, is generally recommended for use with inhaled steroids. But doctors have begun prescribing the drug alone.

The latest research is the first clear-cut evidence suggesting that is not a good idea, said Dr. Stephen Lazarus, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco who was involved in both studies.

The findings appear in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The studies suggest that while salmeterol, sold as Serevent, eases symptoms of asthma, it does not alleviate the underlying inflammation that exacerbates the disease. Inhaled steroids reduce inflammation.

In one study, involving 175 patients ages 12 through 65, taking salmeterol allowed those with persistent asthma to cut their use of steroids in half without worsening the disease. Asthma control deteriorated significantly, however, when steroid use was eliminated.

Long-term use of such steroids has been linked to side effects including osteoporosis and cataracts, and experts generally recommend using the lowest possible dose.

The other study, involving 164 patients of similar age, found that asthma attacks and inflammation increased when steroid users switched to just salmeterol, even though most said they thought it was adequately controlling symptoms.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease affecting more than 14 million Americans. Muscle spasms and inflammation cause lung airways to narrow, resulting in wheezing and breathlessness.

The National Institutes of Health funded both studies.