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Open Access Commentary

The problems of meta-analysis for antibiotic treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a heterogeneous disease: a commentary on Puhan et al

Sanjay Sethi

Author Affiliations

Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, University at Buffalo, State University of New York and VA Western New York Healthcare System, Buffalo, New York, USA

BMC Medicine 2008, 6:29  doi:10.1186/1741-7015-6-29

Published: 10 October 2008

Abstract

Exacerbations are a major cause of morbidity and mortality in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Exacerbations can be of bacterial, viral or mixed etiology, with bacteria involved in 50% of exacerbations. Consequently, current management of exacerbations frequently involves the use of antibiotics. The paper by Puhan et al published this month in BMC Medicine examines the benefit of antibiotics in placebo-controlled trials in mild to moderate outpatient exacerbations. The authors use a meta-analytic approach and rightly conclude that more trials are needed in this area. However, the heterogeneity of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients and exacerbations and the limited end-points in past trials do not allow firm conclusions to be drawn about antibiotic use in outpatient exacerbations based on this meta-analysis. Future trials need to take into account this heterogeneity as well as incorporate novel end-points to address this important issue.