What Is the Relationship between Corticosteroids and COPD?

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  • Written By: A. Reed
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Images By: Lisa F. Young, Thirteen Of Clubs
  • Last Modified Date: 13 January 2020
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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a condition involving three chronic diagnoses: emphysema, bronchitis, and asthma. Characterized by a chronic, productive cough lasting longer than two years, COPD is most commonly diagnosed in people who smoke or are exposed to air pollution and chemical fumes over an extended period of time. Medications typically prescribed to treat this condition are called corticosteroids, which includes inhaled drugs as well as those taken orally in the form of pills. Generally extending to the end of life, the relationship between corticosteroids and COPD centers primarily around treatment. As of 2011, millions of people suffer from this disease as it is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide.

Corticosteroids are synthesized to behave much like the hormone cortisol, which is made by the body's adrenal glands located on the kidneys. The chief purpose of treating COPD with these drugs is to reduce the amount of inflammation experienced by the patient so that he or she can maintain open airways. COPD has the tendency to cause constriction of lung passageways and increased mucus production. Quality of life is significant in the connection of corticosteroids and COPD, as these medications help to control symptoms so that the patient is able to tolerate exercise and continue to provide basic care for himself or herself on a daily basis.


Types of corticosteroids commonly used in the treatment regimen of COPD include oral drugs in tablet form such as prednisone and methylprednisone. Inhaled bronchodilators include fluticasone and triamcinalone, important for continuous airway maintenance. Exacerbations such as persistent coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath are controlled by fast-acting corticosteroids referred to as beta 2-agonists like albuterol. This further demonstrates the association of corticosteroids and COPD regarding treatment.

Taking corticosteroids does have certain side effects and risks commonly related to their use. Hypertension, edema, and weight gain can occur when taking these medications. Osteoporosis results from decreased bone density frequently causing fractures in those diagnosed with COPD, particularly patients taking fluticasone and budesonide. The link between corticosteroids and COPD has been proven by research as of 2011 to be problematic, as drug resistance occurs frequently with long-term corticosteroid therapy, rendering it relatively ineffectual in later stages of the disease.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is progressive, meaning that it gets worse with time as it becomes increasingly difficult to control acute flare-ups. People who stop smoking early on before airway obstruction becomes significant generally do not die as a result of COPD. Those who don't quit smoking tobacco products tend to experience an increase in airflow problems and may eventually need mechanical ventilation, a medical intervention using a specialized machine capable of breathing for an individual during instances of respiratory failure.



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