The risk of asthma exacerbation after stopping low-dose inhaled corticosteroids: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

Matthew A. Rank, John B. Hagan, Miguel A. Park, Jenna C. Podjasek, Shefali A. Samant, Gerald W. Volcheck, Patricia J. Erwin, Colin P. West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

54 Scopus citations


Background: Current asthma guidelines suggest that patients and their providers consider decreasing or stopping controller medications when asthma is stable. Objective: We sought to estimate the risk of asthma exacerbation in patients who stop low-dose inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs) compared with those who continue ICSs in randomized controlled trials. Methods: We identified relevant trials from a systematic review of English-language and non-English-language articles using MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CENTRAL (inception to January 21, 2012). Articles were screened at the abstract and full-text level by 2 independent reviewers. We included randomized controlled trials with a stable asthma run-in period of 4 weeks or more, an intervention to stop or continue ICSs, and a follow-up period of at least 3 months. We pooled results using a random-effects meta-analysis. Results: The search strategy identified 1798 potential articles, of which 172 were reviewed at the full-text level and 7 met the criteria for inclusion. The relative risk for an asthma exacerbation in patients who stopped ICSs compared with those who continued use was 2.35 (95% CI, 1.88-2.92; P < .001; I2 = 0%), as determined by using data pooled from trials with a mean follow-up of 27 weeks. The pooled absolute risk difference for an asthma exacerbation was 0.23 (95% CI, 0.16-0.30; P < .001; I2 = 44%). Patients who discontinued ICSs also had a decreased FEV1 of 130 mL (95% CI, 40-210 mL; P = .003; I2 = 53%), a decreased mean morning peak expiratory flow of 18 L/min (95% CI, 6-29 L/min; P = .004; I2 = 82%), and an increased mean standardized asthma symptom score of 0.43 SDs (95% CI, 0.28-0.58 SDs; P < .001; I2 = 0%). Conclusion: Patients with well-controlled asthma who stop regular use of low-dose ICSs have an increased risk of an asthma exacerbation compared with those who continue ICSs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)724-729.e2
JournalJournal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013



  • Asthma
  • antiasthma agents
  • cessation
  • clinical trial
  • decrease
  • discontinue
  • glucocorticoids
  • step down
  • wean
  • withdraw

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology

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