Study: Acute Respiratory Distress Drug May do More Harm Than Good

Study: Acute Respiratory Distress Drug May do More Harm Than GoodThe drug Salbutamol has been discontinued after patients showed worsening condition after taking the medication.

Researchers have completed a study in which the intravenous infusion of salbutamol was analyzed in patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome, and have halted use of the treatment after finding it did not improve patient outcomes. The drug was also linked to an increased risk of death, the experts found.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is found in roughly 14 percent of patients who must be put on mechanical ventilation. The death rate among patients with ARDS is already high, at about 40 to 60 percent, and survivors tend to have a lower quality of life afterward.

According to the National Library of Medicine, ARDS is caused by any major swelling or injury to the lung, and is most commonly caused by breathing vomit into the lungs, inhaling chemicals, pneumonia, septic shock and trauma. Known complications include lung damage, multiple organ system failure, pulmonary fibrosis and ventilator-associated pneumonia.

However, despite the high rate of death in ARDS patients, "routine use of [beta-2] agonist therapy in mechanically ventilated patients with ARDS cannot be recommended," the researchers wrote in the December 12 online edition of The Lancet.

The study assessed 326 patients who were either given salbutamol or a placebo within 72 hours of developing ARDS. The study continued for seven days, but was stopped short after 55, or 34 percent, of the 161 patients in the group that was given salbutamol died, compared to 23 percent of the 163 patients in the placebo group.

The death rate proved to be 47 percent higher in the salbutamol group than the placebo group, the report stated. Patients taking the medication also had less days off a ventilator and organ-failure free days than those who took the placebo.

"Our findings show that intravenous salbutamol given to patients with early ARDS significantly increased 28-day mortality, and reduced ventilator-free days and duration of organ support compared with those given placebo," said Fang Gao Smith and Gavin Perkins of the University of Warwick.

According to the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, ARDS treatments have improved over the years, but researchers are continually studying new treatments to prevent lasting damage from occurring in the lungs, and other health problems.