Adding a common antibiotic to treatment regimes for some patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can reduce sudden intensifying of symptoms, such as worsened cough, wheezing, and labored breathing. It can also improve general quality of life, according to findings from the COPD Clinical Research Network reported in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Study results indicate that the antibiotic azithromycin is effective in reducing the heightening of COPD symptoms, which are typically caused by bacteria, viruses, or a combination of both. Azithromycin is already prescribed for a variety of bacterial infections, including pneumonia and strep throat.
“Exacerbations account for a significant part of the COPD health burden,” said Mark T. Dransfield, M.D., director of the UAB Lung Health Center and associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine. “These promising results with azithromycin may help us reduce that burden and improve the lives of patients at risk of these acute attacks.”
Past studies had hinted that azithromycin might be effective in reducing COPD exacerbations. The study enrolled more than 1,000 subjects. Eighty percent were already taking medications to improve their COPD symptoms, including inhaled steroids and long-acting bronchodilators.
For the study, 570 patients took 250 mg of azithromycin daily for a year in addition to their usual care. They averaged 1.48 acute COPD exacerbations annually, compared to 1.83 exacerbations for the 572 patients who received their usual care without azithromycin. The participants who took azithromycin also believed their overall well-being was improved.
Dransfield says azithromycin may help up to 3 million people in the United States with COPD (12 million have the disease), particularly those with moderate to severe disease who require oxygen or who have a history of exacerbations within the past year.
COPD, a progressive disease of the lungs, recently surpassed stroke and is now the third leading cause of death in this country. There is no cure, though a combination of drugs and lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms, reduce exacerbations, and improve quality of life.