Background Exacerbations of chronic bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are a significant health burden. A substantial component of these exacerbations in many patients is mucus-hypersecretion. Mucolytics, drugs that ‘thin’ mucus, have potential efficacy in these patients.
Currently, erdosteine is the only mucolytic in the British National Formulary (BNF) indicated for “symptomatic treatment of acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis”, while other BNF mucolytics (carbocisteine, mecysteine and N-acetylcysteine) have had more general or non-respiratory indications, e.g. “reduction in sputum viscosity”. It is theorised that there is clinical evidence that erdosteine is useful in treatment of acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis, unlike any of the other aforementioned mucolytics.
Methods In this narrative systematic review, databases utilised included: Medline, Embase and PubMed. Studies for inclusion had to be Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) primarily investigating the effect of erdosteine in exacerbations of chronic bronchitis or COPD. For comparison, RCTs were also included if they investigated carbocisteine, mecysteine and N-acetylcysteine’s effects in exacerbations. A secondary outcome was to investigate the use of these mucolytics in improving COPD signs and symptoms.
Once selected, a two-stage publication elimination process was devised by the author to assess the quality of the trials.
Results Very few trials of adequate quality assessed the efficacy of mucolytics in chronic bronchitis or COPD. Of the 5,560 search results, only 62 trials investigated the aforementioned mucolytics use in chronic bronchitis or COPD, 41 were RCTs. Of the 41 RCTs only 13 were found to be of adequate quality; erdosteine (1 RCT), carbocisteine (3 RCTs), mecysteine (0 RCTs) and N-acetylcysteine (9 RCTs).
There was no evidence that erdosteine is useful in treating exacerbations, and very limited, weak evidence for some efficacy in exacerbation prevention. In contrast, carbocisteine showed some strong evidence of efficacy in preventing exacerbations, especially in Asian populations. N-acetylcysteine trial results were variable, and evenly distributed between positive and no effects, with one study showing adverse effects. There were no trials of adequate quality investigating mecysteine.
Conclusion There is little evidence that erdosteine is useful in treating chronic bronchitis exacerbations, whereas, overall carbocisteine seems to be more efficacious in exacerbation prevention.
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