Treatment with tiotropium improves lung functions and reduces the risk of a lung attack among patients with serious forms of asthma. In addition, there was a drop in the total number of side-effects. These are the findings of research led by lung specialist Huib Kerstjens from the UMCG, who headed a large-scale study carried out in association with 119 hospitals spread across 5 continents. Today, he is publishing his research in the New England Journal of Medicine, as well as presenting his findings at a major international conference for lung specialists in Vienna.
Many asthma patients benefit from the existing medication dispensed via inhalers. Since the introduction of these drugs some twenty years ago, hospital visits have become a rare occurrence. However, despite making optimal use of existing drugs, a small group of asthma patients still suffer severely from constricted airways and regular lung attacks. The UMCG has headed a study into the effects of a new drug for asthma (tiotropium) on this group of patients. The drug is already being used to treat COPD.
A total of 912 people with severe asthma took part in the study. During the course of a year, they inhaled either tiotropium or a placebo alongside their considerable array of asthma medication. The primary aim of the study was to see whether the drug improved the constriction in their airways and caused a drop in the incidence of lung attacks. The answer to both questions was positive. Lung function certainly improved, but perhaps more importantly to the patients, the risk of a lung attack in that year dropped by 21%. Looking at the side-effects was another important aspect of the research. There were more cases of a dry mouth among the group that used tiotropium. However, the total number of side-effects in the group using tiotropium was lower than in the group given a placebo.
Professor Huib Kerstjens, lung specialist at the UMCG and head researcher, is both surprised and pleased with the findings: ‘These results have surpassed our expectations. Previous smaller studies meant that although we expected the drug to have a positive effect by dilating the airways, we certainly hadn’t expected the drop in lung attacks. We must remember that despite being on the optimum medication, all these patients had nonetheless experienced a lung attack during the year preceding the study.’
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