Triple Therapy: What Is It? What are the Benefits?
Dear Dr. Mahler:
I am curious about “triple therapy.” My doctor suggested this to me at my last visit, but said that he wanted to read more about the results of studies.
My doctor has told me that my COPD is severe. Last winter I had a flare-up and had to be hospitalized. I am doing fine now, taking Spiriva HandiHaler and Serevent Diskus. What are your thoughts?
Jeff from Wilmington, NY
“Triple therapy” refers to three different inhaled medications to treat COPD. Two are bronchodilators, and the other is an inhaled corticosteroid.
You state that you are currently taking a long-acting beta agonist – Serevent Diskus – twice a day – and a long-acting muscarinic antagonist – Spiriva HandiHaler – once a day in the morning. These dry powder bronchodilators act in different ways to open the breathing tubes by relaxing the muscle that wraps around the airways.
Serevent Diskus dry powder inhaler
Inhaled corticosteroids are a different type of medication used to treat COPD. It is anti-inflammatory – that means it reduces redness and swelling inside of the breathing tubes.
At the present time, two different inhalers need to be used to provide “triple therapy.” According to an international group of experts in COPD called GOLD, triple therapy should be used in those patients who are short of breath with walking on the level and have had 2 or more flare-ups (called exacerbations) or one requiring hospitalization in the past year.
Pharmaceutical companies are working on putting all three types of medications – beta-agonist bronchodilator, muscarinic antagonist bronchodilator, and corticosteroid – into one inhaler. This is also called “closed triple therapy” because all medication are “closed” within one device.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reviewing a proposed “closed triple therapy” inhaler for us in the US. At the present, “triple therapy” requires use of two different inhalers.
Spiriva HandiHaler dry powder inhaler
In the August 15, 2017, issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (volume 196; pages 438-446), Dr. Lipson and colleagues published one of the first reports of triple therapy in one inhaler. It is called the FULFIL study. The 3-in-1 inhaler was compared with twice daily beta-agonist and inhaled corticosteroid for 24 weeks in a total of 1,810 patients with COPD. Triple therapy showed greater improvements in breathing tests and in quality of life scores along with a 35% reduction in flare-ups compared with dual therapy. The safety was similar between the two inhaled medications.
Once again, triple therapy is recommended for those who are symptomatic (short of breath walking on the level) and are at risk for a flare-up (exacerbation) based on 2 episodes in the past year or one leading to hospitalization.
Donald A. Mahler, M.D.
David A. Lipson, M.D., of Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia