Letters

The ISOLDE trial

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7272.1349 (Published 25 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1349

Side effects with inhaled steroids should not be forgotten

  1. Brian J Lipworth, professor of allergy and respiratory medicine (b.j.lipworth@dundee.ac.uk)
  1. Ninewells Hospital, Dundee DD1 9SY
  2. Bemerton Heath Surgery, Salisbury SP2 9DJ
  3. 14 Midmar Drive, Edinburgh EH10 6BU

    EDITOR—Burge et al in the ISOLDE study have shown a small but significant improvement in clinical outcomes with high dose inhaled fluticasone in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, without influencing the decline in lung function.1 Their recommendation for using high dose inhaled steroids needs to be tempered on the basis of their potential for producing systemic adverse effects, especially in susceptible elderly patients.

    In the ISOLDE study there was a significant but small degree of adrenal suppression, as shown by 11% and 14% falls in serum concentrations of cortisol measured at 8-10 am after six and 24 months of fluticasone compared with no change in the placebo group. Spot measurement of cortisol concentrations at 8-10 am is extremely insensitive at detecting adrenal suppression,2 which makes the finding of any significant fall even more relevant as a surrogate marker for potential systemic bioactivity in these patients. This is supported by the fact that there are more patients with bruising after taking fluticasone than placebo: 7% compared with 4% of patients. As bruising is a visible marker of altered collagen turnover in skin, similar collagen adverse effects might conceivably have also occurred in bone tissue. A recent study of asthmatic patients found a significant inverse relation between cumulative inhaled steroid dose and lumbar bone density.3

    Consequently, the modest efficacy gains with high dose fluticasone should be balanced …

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