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Long-Acting ß-Agonists Raise Risk of Fatal Asthma Attacks

Drug increases severe and life-threatening exacerbations of the condition

FRIDAY, June 9 (HealthDay News) -- The use of long-acting ß-agonists increases the risk of severe, life-threatening and fatal exacerbations of asthma, according to a review published online June 6 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Shelley R. Salpeter, M.D., of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif., and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of the results of 19 trials of ß-agonists covering 33,826 participants.

The results showed that this class of drug raised the odds of hospitalization 2.6 times and raised the risk of life-threatening asthma exacerbations 1.8 times, compared with placebo. There was a statistically significant increase in hospitalizations for salmeterol and formoterol. Among children the odds were raised fourfold, and among adults were doubled.

The authors note that the concomitant use of inhaled corticosteroids does not provide adequate protection from the adverse effects of ß-agonists and conclude that use of the drug could be associated with a significant volume of unnecessary hospitalizations, admission to intensive care and fatalities.

"Black box warnings on the labeling of these agents clearly outline the increased risk for asthma-related deaths associated with their use, but these warnings have not changed prescribing practices of physicians," they write. "This information could be used to reassess whether these agents should be withdrawn from the market."

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