One hundred and twenty seven adults considered on clinical grounds to have non-asthmatic chronic airflow obstruction entered a randomised, double blind, placebo controlled, crossover trial comparing the physiological response to inhaled beclomethasone dipropionate 500 micrograms thrice daily with oral prednisolone 40 mg a day, both given for two weeks. One hundred and seven patients completed the study. Response was assessed as change in FEV1 and FVC measured on the last treatment day, and as change in mean peak expiratory flow (PEF) over the final seven days of treatment from home PEF recordings performed five times daily. A full response to treatment was defined as an increase in FEV or FVC, or an increase in mean daily PEF over the final seven days of treatment, of at least 20% from baseline values. An improvement in one measurement of at least 15%, or of 10% in any two measurements, was defined as a partial treatment response. Response to placebo showed a significant order effect, suggesting a carry over effect of active treatment of at least three weeks. Response to active treatment was therefore related to initial baseline values, and compared with placebo by considering responses in the first treatment phase only. A full response to oral prednisolone (16/38) was significantly more common than to placebo (3/35). The number of full responses to inhaled beclomethasone (8/34) did not differ significantly from the number responding to oral prednisolone or placebo in the first treatment phase, though full and partial responses to inhaled beclomethasone (12/34) were significantly more common than those to placebo (4/35). When all three treatment phases were considered 44/107 patients showed a full response to one or both forms of corticosteroid treatment, a response to prednisolone (39) occurring more frequently than to inhaled beclomethasone (26). Only 21 of the 44 responders showed a response to both forms of treatment. Inhaled beclomethasone dipropionate 500 micrograms thrice daily was inferior to oral prednisolone 40 mg per day, but better than placebo, in producing improvement in physiological measurements in patients thought to have nonasthmatic chronic airflow obstruction. It was, however, an effective alternative in over half of those showing a response to prednisolone.
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