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Study touts inhaled steroids for asthma

Inhaled steroids are far more effective than other drugs in keeping asthma patients out of the hospital, a study found.

For six years, the government has recommended steroid inhalants for the treatment of asthma, but doctors have been slow to prescribe them.

"There's a lot of clinical trial evidence to show that inhaled steroids work and they're a benefit to people who have asthma," said the lead author of the study, James Donahue, an epidemiologist with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Donahue's findings appear in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Asthma afflicts 14-million to 15-million Americans and kills more than 5,000 a year.

The three-year study found that people with moderate to severe asthma who take inhaled steroids are only half as likely to be hospitalized as those who use other drugs _ such as muscle-relaxants called beta agonists _ or no medication at all.

Some of the lowest hospitalization rates occurred among patients who used large amounts of beta agonists in combination with inhaled steroids.

The study involved 16,941 people who were enrolled in Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, the largest health maintenance organization in New England.