How effective are anticholinergic bronchodilators?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Anticholinergic bronchodilators are as effective as long-acting beta-agonists in improving airflow and relieving shortness of breath. Both types of drugs provide similar benefits in maintaining quality of life and improving survival. Anticholinergic bronchodilators may be more effective in preventing symptom flare-ups.

Anticholinergic bronchodilators may help people who still have flare-ups despite the use of other drugs. Ipratropium is usually reserved for people with severe flare-ups. Anticholinergics do not work as fast as short-acting beta agonists. 

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Both short- and long-acting anticholinergic bronchodilators have been shown to be helpful in reducing symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. There is not good evidence that they reduce the risk of dying from these diseases, however.

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