Paradoxical Bronchospasm May Be Missed in COPD or Asthma


A rare and potentially life-threatening adverse effect of bronchodilator therapy may be overlooked among patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma, according to a researcher who reviewed spirometry test results from U.S. military veterans.

Nearly 1.5% of the tests met the criteria for paradoxical bronchospasm, which refers to airway constriction that may rapidly occur after inhalation of a short-acting beta2 agonist (SABA) such as albuterol.

However, none of those reports alluded to paradoxical bronchospasm, said investigator Malvika Kaul, MD, fellow in the department of pulmonary and critical care at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center, also in Chicago.

“Paradoxical bronchospasm was neither recognized nor reported in any spirometry test results,” Kaul said in an online poster presentation at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, held virtually this year.

By recognizing paradoxical bronchospasm, health care providers could address its clinical implications and identify potential alternative management options, according to Kaul.

“We hope in the future, education of clinicians about this phenomena is emphasized,” Kaul said in her presentation.

Recognizing Paradoxical Bronchospasm

In an interview, Kaul said she began researching paradoxical bronchospasm after encountering a patient who had an acute reaction to albuterol during a pulmonary function test.

“I was not taught about it, and I wasn’t recognizing that pattern very frequently in my patients,” she said.

Prescribing information for Food and Drug Administration–approved SABAs include a warning that life-threatening paradoxical bronchospasm may occur, said Kaul.

If paradoxical bronchospasm occurs, the patient should discontinue the medication immediately and start on alternative therapy, according to the available prescribing information for albuterol sulfate.

Paradoxical bronchospasm has been linked to worsened respiratory outcomes, including more frequent exacerbations, in patients with obstructive lung diseases, according to Kaul.

Two previous large studies pegged the prevalence of paradoxical bronchospasm at around 4.5% in patients with COPD or asthma, but “it has not been reported or addressed in high-risk population, such as veterans who have high prevalence of obstructive lung diseases like COPD,” Kaul said.

Latest Study Results

Kaul described a retrospective analysis of 1,150 pre- and postbronchodilator spirometry tests conducted in patients with COPD or asthma at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center between 2017 and 2020.

A positive paradoxical bronchodilator response was defined as a decrease of least 12% and 200 mL in forced expiratory volume in 1 second and forced vital capacity from baseline after four puffs of albuterol were inhaled, Kaul said.

Out of 18 reviewed spirometry results that met the criteria, none of the test results reported or recognized paradoxical bronchospasm, according to Kaul.

Those meeting the criteria were predominantly COPD patients, according to Kaul, who said 12 had an underlying diagnosis COPD, 4 had asthma, and 2 had COPD and asthma.

Of the 18 patients, 13 were African American, and all but 1 of the 18 patients had a current or past smoking history, according to reported data.

A history of obstructive sleep apnea was reported in nine patients, and history of gastroesophageal reflux disease was also reported in nine patients. Eleven patients had emphysema.

Greater Awareness Needed

Results of this study emphasize the need to recognize potential cases paradoxical bronchospasm in clinical practice, as well as a need for more research, according to Allen J. Blaivas, DO, FCCP, chair of the CHEST Airway Disorders NetWork.

“It’s something to be on the alert for, and certainly be aware that, if your patient is telling you that they feel worse, we shouldn’t just pooh-pooh it,” said Blaivas, who is medical director of the intensive care unit at the East Orange campus of the VA New Jersey Health Care System.

Further research could focus on breaking down whether patients with suspected paradoxical bronchospasm are using metered-dose inhalers or nebulizers, whether or not they are also taking inhaled corticosteroids, and whether prospective testing can confirm paradoxical bronchospasm in patients who report tightness after using a SABA, he said in an interview.

Kaul and coauthor Israel Rubinstein, MD had no relevant relationships to disclose. Blaivas had no relevant relationships to disclose.

This article originally appeared in Chest Physician.



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