WEDNESDAY, April 20 (HealthDay News) -- Inhaled corticosteroids can actually reduce the risk of death in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, who are hospitalized with pneumonia, a new study has found.

U.S. researchers examined the medical records of 15,768 COPD patients older than 65 who were admitted to VA hospitals for pneumonia between 2002 and 2007. Of those patients, 52.5 percent were treated with inhaled corticosteroids.

The all-cause death rate after 30 days was 10.2 percent for inhaled corticosteroid users and 13.6 percent for those who weren't treated with inhaled corticosteroids. After 90 days, the death rate was 17.3 percent among inhaled corticosteroid users and 22.8 percent for those who didn't receive inhaled corticosteroids, the investigators found.

Overall, patients not treated with inhaled corticosteroids were about 25 percent more likely to die than those who received the medication, the researchers concluded.

The study findings were released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Previous research found that inhaled corticosteroid use in COPD patients increases the risk of pneumonia. It was therefore believed that inhaled corticosteroids also increased the risk of death in these patients. This study found the opposite to be true.

"These results have clear implications for current clinical practice, which has been informed in the past by a series of studies that found an increased risk of pneumonia with inhaled corticosteroid use," principal investigator Dr. Eric Mortensen, an investigator at the Veterans Evidence-Based Research, Dissemination, and Implementation Center (VERDICT), a VA Health Services research and development program, said in a news release from the American Thoracic Society.

"In contrast, our study would suggest that inhaled corticosteroid use may confer a survival benefit to these patients and may be employed when there are not contraindications. These results should reassure clinicians that they can give their COPD patients inhaled corticosteroids without fearing that the increased risk of pneumonia will translate into higher risk of mortality," he said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about COPD.