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      Efficacy and side effects of intravenous theophylline in acute asthma: a systematic review and meta-analysis

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          Background and objective

          Theophylline has been used for decades to treat both acute and chronic asthma. Despite its longevity in the practitioner’s formulary, no detailed meta-analysis has been performed to determine the conditions, including concomitant medications, under which theophylline should be used for acute exacerbations of asthma. We aimed to quantify the usefulness and side effects of theophylline with or without ethylene diamine (aminophylline) in acute asthma, with particular emphasis on patient subgroups, such as children, adults, and concomitant medications.


          We searched PubMed, EMBASE, The Cochrane Library, ClinicalTrials.gov, and the WHO Clinical Trials Registry for randomized, controlled clinical trials. We planned a priori subgroup analyses by time post-medication, concomitant medication, control type, and age.


          We included 52 study arms from 42 individual trials. Of these, 29 study arms included an active control, such as adrenaline, beta-2 agonists, or leukotriene receptor antagonists, and 23 study arms compared theophylline (with or without ethylene diamine) with placebo or no drug. Theophylline significantly reduced heart rate when compared with active control ( p=0.01) and overall duration of stay ( p=0.002), but beta-2 agonists were superior to theophylline at improving forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) ( p=0.002). Theophylline was not significantly different from other drugs in its effects on respiratory rate, forced vital capacity (FVC), peak expiratory flow rate, admission rate, use of rescue medication, oxygen saturation, or symptom score. Closer examination of the data revealed that the medications given in addition to theophylline or control significantly changed the effectiveness of theophylline (subgroup difference: p<0.00001).


          Given the low cost of theophylline, and its similar efficacy and rate of side effects compared with other drugs, we suggest that theophylline, when given with bronchodilators with or without steroids, is a cost-effective and safe choice for acute asthma exacerbations.

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          Most cited references 61

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          Managing asthma exacerbations in the emergency department: summary of the National Asthma Education And Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3 guidelines for the management of asthma exacerbations.

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            Is asthma prevalence still increasing?

            Increased awareness of asthma in society and altered diagnostic practices makes evaluation of data on prevalence change difficult. In most parts of the world the asthma prevalence seems to still be increasing. The increase is associated with urbanization and has been documented particularly among children and teenagers in urban areas of middle- and low-level income countries. Use of validated questionnaires has enabled comparisons of studies. Among adults there are few studies based on representative samples of the general population which allow evaluation of time trends of prevalence. This review focuses mainly on studies of asthma prevalence and symptoms among adults. Parallel with increased urbanization, we can assume that the increase in asthma prevalence in most areas of the world will continue. However, in Australia and North-West Europe studies performed, particularly among children and adolescents, indicate that the increase in asthma prevalence may now be leveling off.
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              Randomised comparison of intravenous magnesium sulphate, terbutaline and aminophylline for children with acute severe asthma.

              This study compared the efficacy of intravenous magnesium sulphate, terbutaline and aminophylline for children with acute, severe asthma poorly responsive to standard initial treatment.

                Author and article information

                Drug Des Devel Ther
                Drug Des Devel Ther
                Drug Design, Development and Therapy
                Drug Design, Development and Therapy
                Dove Medical Press
                10 January 2018
                : 12
                : 99-120
                Respiratory Department, The Second Affiliated Hospital of Xinjiang Medical University, Urumqi, Xinjiang Province, People’s Republic of China
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Gulixian Mahemuti, Respiratory Department, The Second Affiliated Hospital of Xinjiang Medical University, No 38 Nanhu East Road, Urumqi 830063, Xinjiang Province, People’s Republic of China, Email gulixianmahemuti@ 123456126.com
                © 2018 Mahemuti et al. This work is published and licensed by Dove Medical Press Limited

                The full terms of this license are available at https://www.dovepress.com/terms.php and incorporate the Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/). By accessing the work you hereby accept the Terms. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed.

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