Following heart disease and cancer, chronic pulmonary disease (COPD) is the leading cause of death in America. COPD afflicts a patient’s lungs, most often in the form of the flu, asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer. Secondhand causes include air pollution, secondhand smoke, occupational dust and chemicals, heredity, and a childhood of respiratory infections, reported the American Lung Association (ALA). While the ALA also reported between one-third and one-half of patients take at least one daily medication for their condition, a new JAMA study found effectively treating the conditions takes more than meds.

Researchers from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto looked at the outcomes of treatment therapy that involved older COPD patients, particularly those with asthma, taking long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs) — an asthma medication that works to relax the muscles around the bronchial tubes — from 2003 to 2011, to therapy that involved taking both LABA’s and an inhaled corticosteroid (ICS), or steroid. The latter is a much stronger medication patients take to get control of their symptoms. And the results showed a combination of the two proved to be the most effective in lowering risk for death, as well as COPD-related hospitalization.

"Our finding of an association between LABAs and ICSs and outcomes helps clarify the management of patients with COPD and asthma, as many studies of COPD medications have excluded people with asthma and vice versa," the authors wrote. "In addition, practice guidelines for COPD recommend that LABAs be considered first-line treatment while asthma guidelines warn against use of LABAs without ICSs. Our findings also offer insight into the optimal treatment of COPD patients without asthma — those who would not be considered especially corticosteroid responsive."

Researchers did note their findings need to be confirmed in clinical trials, though so far it’s a promising idea worth inquiring your doctor about. COPD is preventable and treatable, namely in those who smoke. Smoking has been reported by the ALA has the primary risk factor for COPD. Put another away, 80 percent of COPD deaths are caused by smoking.

COPD isn’t the only condition that benefits from combined therapy. A separate JAMA Psychiatry study found 452 outpatient patients who were severely depressed “recovered,” which is to say they went 26 weeks without a relapse in symptoms, when taking antidepressants and going to cognitive therapy.

So it would seem double, or nothing.

Source: Gershon AS, et al. JAMA. 2014.