Daily antibiotic use could reduce COPD flare-ups, study finds

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Long-term daily doses of the antibiotic azithromycin helped prevent life-threatening flare-ups of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a new study finds.

COPD, a chronic lung disease that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, can be worsened by bacterial and viral infections that can cause flare-ups of the disease, leading to frequent hospital and doctor's office visits. In a recent study of 1,100 people with COPD, ages 40 and up, one group received a placebo pill while the other was given azithromycin. After one year, participants taking the antibiotic daily were 27% less likely to experience a flare-up in their COPD symptoms than the group taking the dummy pill.

The antibiotic has been linked to irregular heartbeats in some people, and has been associated with hearing loss in people with hearing impairments, so researchers stress that physicians should use caution when prescribing azithromycin. According to the study, investigators suspect the drug might have anti-inflammatory properties that calm COPD.

"If, after trying all of the standard treatments, patients are still having acute exacerbations of COPD, adding azithromycin to the treatment regimen will decrease the number of exacerbations," Richard Albert, M.D., told HealthDay News.

The study was published in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
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