Old Drug is New Again

Zithromax helps minimize chronic lung diseases

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Sudden coughing attacks for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) can be a frightening, life-threatening event. These are usually brought on by bacterial infections.

COPD is a progressive lung disease with no cure, but can be moderated with lifestyle choices and medications. It is also the third leading cause of death in the United States.

New research indicates that adding the common antibiotic azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax) to the treatment mix is effective in reducing aggravations suffered by patients with COPD. Zithromax is already prescribed for a number of bacterial infections, like strep throat and pneumonia.

"Ask your doctor about new COPD medications."

Mark T. Dransfield, M.D., director of the University of Alabama Birmingham Lung Health Center and associate professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine reports that aggravations account for a significant portion of additional treatments for patients with COPD. These promising results with azithromycin may improve the quality of patients lives most at risk of these acute attacks.

Dr. Dransfield estimates that this azithromycin therapy might be appropriate for up to three million of the 12 million people in the United States with COPD.

The study enrolled more than 1,000 subjects with COPD. Half of the participants added 250 mg of azithromycin every day for one year to the standard treatment protocol. The other half of the patients used the standard protocol without any additional antibiotics.

The participants, who were given azithromycin averaged 1.48 acute COPD attacks annually compared to 1.83 in the group that didn't take the antibiotic. Additionally, the patients on azithromycin reported feeling better and breathing easier than the patients who weren't given the additional drug.

Around 80 percent of study participants were taking other medications used to manage their COPD during the study period. These medications included bronchodilators and inhaled steroids.

Side-effects from azithromycin were insignificant even though the use of the drug increased the presence of antibiotic resistant microbes in some of this commonly prescribed antibiotic were minimal. Azithromycin increased the presence of antibiotic-resistant microbes in some patients, although no one developed an infection. A slight lose of hearing due to the azithromycin therapy did occur in a small fraction of these patients.

This study is reported in the Aug. 25 2011 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 21, 2011
Last Updated:
September 6, 2011