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The use of systemic corticosteroids in exacerbations of COPD

CPD Hours



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Chronic diseases


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive, non-reversible, airways disease characterised by long term inflammation that leads to structural deterioration.2

Exacerbations of COPD are acute periods of symptom deterioration where dyspnoea worsens and sputum production increases.

Systemic corticosteroids are the primary tool for managing exacerbations, alongside antibiotics where indicated, and supportive therapy, if in hospital.1,2

Corticosteroids, when used correctly and well timed, have been shown to reduce hospitalisations and shorten hospital stays.1,2

Although systemic corticosteroids are very effective for this indication, they are not without risk.

This module will discuss the use of prednisone (brand names: Sone, and Panafcort), prednisolone (brand names: Solone, and Panafcortelone), and hydrocortisone, specifically for the management of COPD exacerbations.1

National standards

This module primarily relates to the following national standards:

  • National Safety and Quality Primary and Community Healthcare Standards: Clinical Governance Standard
  • National Safety and Quality Health Service (NSQHS) Standard number 4: Medication Safety.

Learning Objective

At the end of this module participants will be able to:

  • Describe COPD and understand its prevalence and precipitating factors.
  • Appreciate how COPD can affect a person’s everyday life.
  • Describe some of the features and triggers of a COPD exacerbation.
  • Discuss the benefits of corticosteroid therapy in managing an exacerbation.
  • Identify an appropriate corticosteroid dose regime for the treatment of a COPD exacerbation.
  • Identify contraindications and relevant precautions to consider before administering corticosteroids.
  • Know the adverse effects associated with systemic corticosteroids and recommended monitoring.
  • Explain the significance of steroid-induced hyperglycaemia, who is at risk, and how it is managed.

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