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Asthma inhalers causing deaths - study

Jun 20, 2006 | UPI

Three asthma inhalers with salmeterol or formoterol may cause 80 percent of U.S. asthma deaths annually, says a new study.

Because of the possible health risks, these products sold as GlaxoSmithKline's Serevent and Advair, and Novartis' Foradil should be recalled, said researchers at Cornell University and Stanford University.

"These asthma deaths are generally (occurring) in healthy young adults," said Stanford researcher Shelly Salpeter. "We estimate that approximately 4,000 of the 5,000 asthma deaths that occur in the U.S. each year are caused by these long-acting beta-agonists, and we urge that (they) be taken of the market."

The researchers conducted a statistical analysis of 19 published asthma trials involving 33,826 patients and found that people who used salmeterol-based asthma inhalers (Serevent and Advair) or inhalers containing formoterol (Foradil) were 3.5 times more likely to die from asthma.

The team also saw that these same patients were 2.5 times more likely to be hospitalized than asthma patients using a placebo inhaler.

Both drugs are in a drug class known as long-acting beta-agonists.

The researchers said that, although beta-agonists relieve bronchial spasm, they also promote bronchial inflammation and sensitivity without warning. Although Advair contains an anti-inflammatory to correct this problem, hospitalizations of patients taking Advair were still double those of people who took a placebo plus an anti-inflammatory, the team noted.

The study authors, whose paper appears in the June 20 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, noted that asthma death is relatively rare. Only 15 study patients who were taking the drugs died, compared to three in the placebo group over a six-month period, they said.

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