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Asthma Medications can Stunt Growth

Update Date: Jul 17, 2014 01:51 PM EDT

According to two systemic reviews, taking asthma medications might impact one's growth. The researchers found that inhaled corticosteroid drugs (ICS) suppressed children's growth within the first year of treatment. However, these effects were reduced when the children started taking lower doses.

Asthma is a long-term lung disease that is characterized by inflammation and the narrowing of the airways, causing symptoms such as wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. It is typically diagnosed in children. For this study, the researchers examined the effects of ICS, which are the first-line treatment for children and adults with persistent asthma.

In the first systemic review, the researchers examined 25 trials that included a total of 8,471 children with mild to moderate persistence asthma. The trials had involved all inhaled corticosteroids with the exception of triamcinolone. They found that children who took inhaled corticosteroids had stunted growth in comparison to children who took a placebo or children who took non-steroidal drugs.

"The evidence we reviewed suggests that children treated daily with inhaled corticosteroids may grow approximately half a centimeter less during the first year of treatment," said lead author of the review, Linjie Zhang, from the Faculty of Medicine at the Federal University of Rio Grande in Rio Grande, Brazil reported in the press release. "But this effect is less pronounced in subsequent years, is not cumulative, and seems minor compared to the known benefits of the drugs for controlling asthma and ensuring full lung growth."

In the second systemic review, the researchers analyzed 22 trials involving children who were treated with low or medium doses of inhaled corticosteroids. The trials left out triamcinolone and flunisolide. From these trials, the researchers found that children who used lower doses of the drugs had improved growth at the one-year point.

 "Only 14% of the trials we looked at monitored growth in a systematic way for over a year. This is a matter of major concern given the importance of this topic," said Francine Ducharme, one of the authors of both reviews and senior author of the second review. "We recommend that the minimal effective dose be used in children with asthma until further data on doses becomes available. Growth should be carefully documented in all children treated with inhaled corticosteroids, as well in all future trials testing inhaled corticosteroids in children."

The reviews were published in The Cochrane Library.

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