The effect of six weeks' treatment with inhaled terbutaline (1 mg four times a day), optimised doses of theophylline (twice a day), the combination of theophylline and terbutaline, and placebo was studied in a randomised, double blind, crossover trial. Thirty patients with partially reversible chronic airflow obstruction and a mean forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) of 1.2 litres that improved by 25% were included in the study. Patients who developed non-infective exacerbations of airflow obstruction that required additional bronchodilator treatment were classed as "treatment failures." Such treatment failure occurred in 23 patients with placebo, in 22 patients with theophylline, in 12 patients with terbutaline, and in two patients taking the two drugs. Mean daily peak flow readings were highest with the combination of the two drugs, followed by terbutaline and then theophylline, and lowest with placebo. Thus a combination of terbutaline and theophylline was superior to either drug alone; inhaled terbutaline was superior to theophylline alone. Theophylline alone does not appear to have much place in the management of patients with partially reversible obstructive airways disease.
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