Asthma :: Common Asthma Medication Poses Risk to Black Patients

A large study on the popular asthma medication salmeterol was halted after researchers uncovered evidence that the drug may pose a slightly higher risk for respiratory and asthma-related deaths among black patients.

More commonly known by its brand name, Serevent, the drug is a member of the beta agonist class of asthma medications, which treat asthma symptoms by relaxing inflamed airways.

The report, published in the January issue of Chest, offers details of the research that was halted after the risk surfaced.

In 2003, that increased risk prompted the drug’s manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, to strengthen its safety warnings on the labels of both Serevent and its corticosteroid-enhanced combination drug Advair.

“The bottom line is that in a very large study in which salmeterol or a placebo was added to whatever treatment patients already were on, there was an increased number of severe asthma attacks, including fatal attacks,” said study co-author Dr. Harold S. Nelson, a professor of medicine, allergy and immunology at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, in Denver.

“And I suspect that it’s not actually ethnicity that is the issue,” he added, “but rather it’s a situation where there’s higher risk for people who perhaps have less access to medical care to begin with or whose asthma was less well-controlled to begin with.”

For the years 1996 to 2003, Nelson and his colleagues assessed the harmful side effects of salmeterol among more than 26,000 males and females over the age of 12. All the participants were asthma sufferers already taking some form of asthma medication other than inhaled beta antagonists. More than 70 percent were white, while 18 percent were black.

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