Formoterol for asthma: Evidence of serious adverse effects

October 07, 2008

Asthma sufferers who regularly take the beta2-agonist formoterol are more likely to suffer non-fatal serious adverse events than those given placebos. A review carried out by Cochrane Researchers showed a significantly increased risk for people who took the drug once or twice daily for at least 12 weeks.

Long-acting beta2-agonists are inhaled to help open the airways and last for 12 hours or more, but their long-term use is controversial. Recent research has cast doubt on the safety of salmeterol. Now researchers are calling into question the safety of the related drug formoterol.

"Our findings are similar to those of a review published earlier this year, which found that regular salmeterol causes an increase in non-fatal adverse events," says lead researcher of both studies, Christopher Cates, who works in Community Health Sciences at St George's, London.

22 studies involving 8,032 people diagnosed with asthma were included in the latest review. In those studies that compared formoterol to a placebo, 16 patients per thousand taking formoterol suffered serious adverse effects, whilst only 10 per thousand taking placebos were similarly affected. Serious adverse effects were most commonly asthma-related. The increase in adverse events was more marked in younger patients.

"It is possible that children are at a higher risk of suffering serious effects due to this drug, but we can't say for sure. We would urge that all serious adverse events are more fully reported in medical journals so that we can make a better assessment of drug safety," says Cates.


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