BACKGROUND--Despite effective treatments, the morbidity and mortality of obstructive airways disease (asthma and COPD) remains high. Home monitoring of peak expiratory flow (PEF) is increasingly being advocated as an aid to better management of obstructive airways disease. The few available studies describing effects of treatment on the level and variation of PEF have involved relatively small numbers of subjects and did not use control groups. METHODS--Patients aged 18-60 years were selected with PC20 < or = 8 mg/ml and FEV1 < 95% confidence interval of predicted normal. They were randomised to receive, in addition to a beta 2 agonist, either an inhaled corticosteroid (BA+CS), an anticholinergic (BA+AC), or a placebo (BA+PL). One hundred and forty one of these subjects with moderately severe obstructive airways disease completed seven periods of two weeks of morning and afternoon PEF measurements at home during 18 months of blind follow up. RESULTS--Improvements in PEF occurred within the first three months of treatment with BA+CS and was subsequently maintained: the mean (SE) increase in morning PEF was 51 (8) l/min in the BA+CS group compared with no change in the other two groups. Similarly, afternoon PEF increased by 22 (7) l/min. Diurnal variation in PEF (amplitude %mean) decreased from 18.0% to 10.2% in the first three months of treatment with BA+CS. Within-subject relations between changes in diurnal variation in PEF and changes in PC20 were found to be predominantly negative (median rho-0.40) but with a large scatter. Relations between diurnal variation in PEF and changes in symptom scores, FEV1, and bronchodilator response were even weaker. CONCLUSIONS--In patients with moderately severe obstructive airways disease, PEF rates and variation are greatly improved by inhaled corticosteroids. Since the relation of diurnal PEF variation with PC20, symptoms, FEV1, and bronchodilator response were all weak, these markers of disease severity may all provide different information on the actual disease state. PEF measurements should be used in addition to the other markers but not instead of them.
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