BACKGROUND--Glucocorticosteroids are widely used as drugs of first choice in the treatment of moderate to severe asthma. The effects of inhaled steroids in high doses have been compared with oral prednisone in asthmatic patients in a double blind crossover study. METHODS--The trial consisted of a two week run in period followed by two four week treatment periods separated by a four week washout. During the treatment period patients took either 1000 micrograms beclomethasone dipropionate twice daily and placebo tablets once daily, or 10 mg prednisone daily in one morning dose and placebo inhaler twice daily. The effects of treatment on the provocative dose of histamine producing a 20% fall in FEV1 (PC20 histamine), peak flow measurements at home, and spirometric measurements in the clinic, as well as on the basal and stimulated plasma cortisol levels were measured. RESULTS--Seventeen patients with asthma completed the study. After four weeks of treatment beclomethasone dipropionate showed a significantly better effect on morning peak expiratory flow rate than prednisone. There was a trend to a greater improvement in the PC20 histamine in patients receiving beclomethasone dipropionate than in those receiving prednisone. There were no significant differences in spirometric values, symptom scores, or basal and stimulated cortisol levels between the treatments. The within treatment analysis showed a significant effect of prednisone on stimulated cortisol levels but not of beclomethasone dipropionate. CONCLUSIONS--Beclomethasone dipropionate 1000 micrograms twice daily has a slightly greater therapeutic effect in this population of asthmatic patients than 10 mg of prednisone once a day with less effect on adrenocortical function.
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