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Magnesium sulfate for acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – Cochrane Review


Details for This Review
Study Population: Adults 35 years and older in seven countries presenting to an emergency department (ED) with an acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Efficacy End Points: Hospital admissions from the ED and the need for noninvasive ventilation, assisted ventilation, or intensive care unit admission

Harm End Points: Adverse events or serious adverse events

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a chronic and progressive disease, often punctuated by recurrent flare‐ups or exacerbations. Magnesium sulfate, having a bronchodilatory effect, may have a potential role as an adjunct treatment in COPD exacerbations. However, comprehensive evidence of its effects is required to facilitate clinical decision‐making.

To assess the effects of magnesium sulfate for acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in adults.

Search methods
We searched the Cochrane Airways Trials Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, ClinicalTrials.gov, the World Health Organization (WHO) trials portal, EU Clinical Trials Register and Iranian Registry of Clinical Trials. We also searched the proceedings of major respiratory conferences and reference lists of included studies up to 2 August 2021.

Selection criteria
We included single‐ or double‐blind parallel‐group randomised controlled trials (RCTs) assessing magnesium sulfate in adults with COPD exacerbations. We excluded cross‐over trials.

Data collection and analysis
We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. Two review authors independently selected trials for inclusion, extracted data and assessed risk of bias. The primary outcomes were: hospital admissions (from the emergency room); need for non‐invasive ventilation (NIV), assisted ventilation or admission to intensive‐care unit (ICU); and serious adverse events. Secondary outcomes were: length of hospital stay, mortality, adverse events, dyspnoea score, lung function and blood gas measurements. We assessed confidence in the evidence using GRADE methodology. For missing data, we contacted the study investigators.

Main results
We identified 11 RCTs (10 double‐blind and 1 single‐blind) with a total 762 participants. The mean age of participants ranged from 62 to 76 years. Trials were single‐ or two‐centre trials conducted in Iran, New Zealand, Nepal, Turkey, the UK, Tunisia and the USA between 2004 and 2018. We judged studies to be at low or unclear risk of bias for most of the domains. Three studies were at high risk for blinding and other biases.

Intravenous magnesium sulfate versus placebo
Seven studies (24 to 77 participants) were included. Fewer people may require hospital admission with magnesium infusion compared to placebo (odds ratio (OR) 0.45, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.88; number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome (NNTB) = 7; 3 studies, 170 participants; low‐certainty evidence). Intravenous magnesium may result in little to no difference in the requirement for non‐invasive ventilation (OR 0.74, 95% CI 0.31 to 1.75; very low‐certainty evidence). There were no reported cases of endotracheal intubation (2 studies, 107 participants) or serious adverse events (1 study, 77 participants) in either group. Included studies did not report intensive care unit (ICU) admission or deaths. Magnesium infusion may reduce the length of hospital stay by a mean difference (MD) of 2.7 days (95% CI 4.73 days to 0.66 days; 2 studies, 54 participants; low‐certainty evidence) and improve dyspnoea score by a standardised mean difference of ‐1.40 (95% CI ‐1.83 to ‐0.96; 2 studies, 101 participants; low‐certainty evidence). We were uncertain about the effect of magnesium infusion on improving lung function or oxygen saturation. For all adverse events, the Peto OR was 0.14 (95% CI 0.02 to 1.00; 102 participants); however, the event rate was too low to reach a robust conclusion.

Nebulised magnesium sulfate versus placebo
Three studies (20 to 172 participants) were included. Magnesium inhalation may have little to no impact on hospital admission (OR 0.77, 95% CI 0.21 to 2.82; very low‐certainty evidence) or need for ventilatory support (NIV or mechanical ventilation) (OR 0.33, 95% CI 0.01 to 8.20; very low‐certainty evidence). It may result in fewer ICU admissions compared to placebo (OR 0.39, 95% CI 0.15 to 1.00; very low‐certainty evidence) and improvement in dyspnoea (MD ‐14.37, 95% CI ‐26.00 to ‐2.74; 1 study, 20 participants; very low‐certainty evidence). There were no serious adverse events reported in either group. There was one reported death in the placebo arm in one trial, but the number of participants was too small for a conclusion. There was limited evidence about the effect of magnesium inhalation on length of hospital stay, lung function outcomes or oxygen saturation. Included studies did not report adverse events.

Magnesium sulfate versus ipratropium bromide
A single study with 124 participants assessed nebulised magnesium sulfate plus intravenous magnesium infusion versus nebulised ipratropium plus intravenous normal saline. There was little to no difference between these groups in terms of hospital admission (OR 1.62, 95% CI 0.78 to 3.37), endotracheal intubation (OR 1.69, 95% CI 0.61 to 4.71) and length of hospital stay (MD 1.10 days, 95% CI ‐0.22 to 2.42), all with very low‐certainty evidence. There were no data available for non‐invasive ventilation, ICU admission and serious adverse events. Adverse events were not reported.

Authors‘ conclusions
Intravenous magnesium sulfate may be associated with fewer hospital admissions, reduced length of hospital stay and improved dyspnoea scores compared to placebo. There is no evidence of a difference between magnesium infusion and placebo for NIV, lung function, oxygen saturation or adverse events. We found no evidence for ICU admission, endotracheal intubation, serious adverse events or mortality.

For nebulised magnesium sulfate, we are unable to draw conclusions about its effects in COPD exacerbations for most of the outcomes. Studies reported possibly lower ICU admissions and a lesser degree of dyspnoea with magnesium inhalation compared to placebo; however, larger studies are required to yield a more precise estimate for these outcomes. Similarly, we could not identify any robust evidence for magnesium sulfate compared to ipratropium bromide. Future well‐designed multicentre trials with larger samples are required, including subgroups according to severity of exacerbations and COPD phenotypes.


Um eine Hospitalisierung zu verhindern (NNT 7), könnte die Gabe von 1-2 g Magnesium i.v. helfen. Einen Versuch ist es wert, vor allem bei Patienten, die nicht ins Krankenhaus wollen. Wichtige Kontraindikation ist der AV-Block/Bradykardie.