Breathing Easier

Commonly prescribed antibiotic reduces acute COPD attacks

issue 14 | winter 2012

Adding azithromycin to the usual treatment regimen for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can reduce acute exacerbations and improve quality of life, according to a recent clinical trial funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

The U-M Health System and VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, under the direction of lung specialists Fernando Martinez, M.D., M.S., and Jeffrey Curtis, M.D., were among 10 centers involved in the large-scale clinical trial. Martinez and his colleagues at U-M provided key preliminary data supporting antibiotic treatment and were involved in the trial's design.

The findings were published in August in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"These promising results with azithromycin may help us reduce the burden of COPD exacerbations and improve the lives of patients at risk of these acute attacks," says Susan Shurin, M.D., acting director of the NHLBI.

The study participants who took 250 mg of azithromycin daily for a year in addition to their usual care averaged 1.48 acute COPD exacerbations annually, compared to 1.83 exacerbations for a similar number receiving usual care. Participants taking azithromycin also responded more favorably on questionnaires that asked them to assess their breathing ability and overall well-being.

Reported side effects during the study were minimal and included slight hearing deficits in a small fraction of participants. More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of the treatment and to identify which group of patients would benefit the most.

"This important research is just one of many efforts — both at U-M and around the country — aimed at helping patients with COPD breathe easier and enjoy a better quality of life," Martinez says.

Also In This Article:

Chart: Acute COPD Exacerbations