Fluticasone with salmeterol (Seretide) for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Published in Medicine Update

Date published: About this date

Health and medicines information in this article may have changed since the date published. This information does not replace advice from a health professional.

This Medicine Update is for people who are taking Seretide or are thinking about starting it.


When you are considering a new medicine, it is important to weigh up the expected benefits and the possible risks of the new medicine, compared with other available medicines or treatments.

Risks and benefits differ between medicines and from person to person.

Your doctor can help you compare different medicines and treatments to decide what is best for your particular situation.


What Seretide is

Seretide (pronounced se-re-tide) is an inhaler. It contains two active ingredients:

  • fluticasone (pronounced floo-tikka-sown) and
  • salmeterol (pronounced sal-met-ah-roll).

Fluticasone is a type of corticosteroid, which is part of the family of steroids. The body  produces many different types of steroids, such as cortisone, oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These steroids have vital functions in the body. Steroids mainly become a problem if used without appropriate medical advice and supervision.

Corticosteroids help reduce inflammation. When inhaled, as in Seretide, they act directly on the lungs to reduce inflammation. Inflammation causes swelling and narrowing of the airways, and the production of mucus. It is an important feature of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Salmeterol is a long-acting beta-agonist. This type of medicine helps the muscles  around the airways in the lung relax. Long-acting means it usually lasts 12 hours or more.

So in combination, Seretide aims to reduce the inflammation in the lung and relax the airways.

What Seretide treats

Seretide treats some forms of lung disease, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.

COPD may include illnesses like chronic bronchitis, emphysema, chronic asthma and others.

In COPD, the airways into the lungs become narrower. They also become inflamed. This makes it hard to breathe. Most of the narrowing is permanent, although some of it may be eased with treatment. The narrowing tends to get worse with time.

COPD usually begins after the age of 40, and often affects people who smoke or have smoked. If a person has mild COPD, quitting smoking can lead to an improvement in the function of the lungs. If a person has moderate to severe COPD, then quitting smoking can slow the speed at which the condition gets worse.

In asthma, the airways are easily irritated. Inhaling a variety of dusts, chemicals, allergic factors and so on may cause the muscle around the airways to tighten and to restrict the flow of air into and out of the lungs. Asthma symptoms tend to come and go over time.

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Other medicines available for this condition

Talk with your doctor about all of the treatment options for COPD and asthma.

A number of medicines other than Seretide can be used to treat COPD. These include:

Medicines that relax the airways:

  • short-acting beta agonists as a single medicine such as salbutamol (Airomir, Asmol, Butamol, Epaq, GenRx Salbutamol, Ventolin) and terbutaline (Bricanyl). These medicines relax the muscles around the airway quickly and last for 3-4 hours.
  • short-acting anticholinergics such as ipratropium (Aeron, Apoven, Atrovent, DPL Ipratropium, GenRx Ipratropium, Ipratrin, Ipravent). These medicines also relax the muscles around the airway for 3-4 hours.
  • long-acting beta agonists such as salmeterol as a single medicine (Serevent),eformoterol (Foradile, Oxis) and indacaterol (Onbrez). These medicines relax the muscles around the airway for 8-12 hours or more.
  • long-acting anticholinergics such as tiotropium (Spiriva). These medicines relax the muscles around the airway for 12 hours or more.

Medicines that reduce inflammation in the airways:

  • inhaled corticosteroids such as beclomethasone (Qvar), budesonide (Pulmicort), ciclesonide (Alvesco) and fluticasone as a single medicine (Flixotide) reduce inflammation in the airways.

Combination medicines that relax the airways and reduce inflammation:

  • short-acting combination medicines such as ipratropium plus salbutamol (Combivent)
  • long-acting beta-agonist and corticosteroid combination medicines such as budesonide plus eformoterol (Symbicort).

Seretide is an example of a combination medicine.

Guidelines developed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in the UK, and Australian guidelines developed by the Australian Lung Foundation, say the best way for doctors to treat a person with COPD is to try certain steps, one at a time, until the treatment works.

Step 1: start with regular doses of a short-acting medicine to relax the airways (a short-acting beta agonist or anticholinergic medicine).

Step 2: if needed, use both regularly.

Step 3: if needed, switch to a long-acting medicine to relax the airways (a long-acting beta agonist and/or an anticholinergic medicine).

Step 4: if needed, use both a long-acting medicine to relax the airways (beta agonist and/or anticholinergic medicine), plus an inhaled corticosteroid to reduce inflammation. This could be administered via separate inhalers, or as two medicines combined in one inhaler. Seretide is such a combination. It contains a long-acting beta agonist and an inhaled corticosteroid.

How well Seretide works compared with other medicines

It is difficult to compare Seretide with other medications, as there are no other directly comparable combination medicines approved for COPD. Below is a summary of how well Seretide works compared with other medicines which do similar, but not identical, things.

Research has shown that people with COPD who use both an inhaled corticosteroid and a long-acting beta agonist have fewer sudden exacerbations, or flare-ups, than people not using either medicine. That is, for people with COPD, using both medicines is better than not using either medicine with regard to flare-ups.

Different research shows that, for people with moderate to severe COPD, using an inhaled corticosteroid in combination with a long-acting beta agonist is better than using either one alone with regard to flare-ups.

Seretide has been shown to work better than either of its component parts alone – fluticasone or salmeterol – for improving the airflow of people with moderate to severe COPD.

Researchers have compared the annual death rate of people experiencing COPD and taking Seretide with the annual death rate of people taking a placebo (or dummy medicine). Overall, this research suggests Seretide might reduce the annual death rate slightly, but it is not certain.

It is unclear whether other similar combinations (such as Symbicort) or other different single agent medications (such as tiotropium) are as effective. It is also unproven whether combining Seretide with long-acting anticholinergic medications is even better than either one used alone.

In conclusion, Seretide will not work for everybody. It may be a matter of trial and error, working with your doctor, to see if it is effective.

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Important side effects of Seretide to consider

The most serious side effect associated with Seretide is a slightly increased risk of pneumonia, which causes fevers, chills, weakness and a worsening cough. The slightly increased risk of pneumonia is probably due to fluticasone, the steroid component of Seretide. Older people have a higher risk of severe pneumonia than younger people.

Ask your health professional about the possible side effects of this medicine before you take it. Always tell them about any changes to your condition if you're taking a new medicine.

To report possible side effects call the NPS Adverse Medicine Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).

People with questions about their medicines or seeking general information about side effects can call the NPS Medicines Line on 1300 633 424 (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).

Other potential side effects include:

  • thrush (candida) infection in the mouth and throat
  • a hoarse or altered voice
  • interference with the body’s usual production of corticosteroids, which may cause problems when the medicine is stopped suddenly
  • thinning of the skin, which can cause the skin to be more easily damaged
  • easy bruising
  • palpitations or a racing heart.

Thrush in the mouth and throat and a hoarse voice are fairly common, while the other side effects listed are fairly uncommon.

For a more complete list of possible side effects for Seretide (fluticasone with salmeterol), see the consumer medicine information (CMI) leaflet available on our Medicines Finder page.

How the side effects of Seretide compare with other medicines

It is difficult to compare Seretide with other medicines used to treat COPD. But all the side effects listed above, except for the last one (palpitations or a racing heart), are probably due to the fluticasone component of Seretide.

Remember that benefits and side effects differ between medicines and from person to person.

Other medicines which do not contain a corticosteroid, like fluticasone, will not have the same potential for side effects, such as pneumonia, thrush in the mouth and throat, a hoarse voice, thin skin and easy bruising. Nor will they interfere with the body’s usual production of corticosteroids.

How to reduce your risk of side effects

Use the Seretide puffer with a spacer. After using Seretide, rinse your mouth with water, gargle and spit out the water. This will help reduce the risk of side effects such as thrush in the mouth and throat, and a hoarse voice.

The most important way to reduce the risk of side effects is to only use Seretide if it is working, and to use it at the dose prescribed. Excessive doses will increase the likelihood of side effects. If you and your doctor do not notice an improvement in your symptoms within 4 to 8 weeks, then you and your doctor should discuss stopping the medicine.

Ask your doctor how you can monitor whether the medicine is helping you.

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Who can be prescribed Seretide on the PBS

Seretide is available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for people with COPD who:

  • have repeated flare-ups with significant symptoms; and
  • have poor lung function on a specific test known as the FEV1.

If you have either moderate to severe COPD and fit these criteria, you will be eligible to receive Seretide through the PBS. There are a number of different forms and strengths of Seretide. Only two forms are PBS approved for people with COPD – the Seretide inhaler 250/25 and the Seretide Accuhaler 500/50 (which is a dry powder inhaler).

For people who pay concessional prescription rates, a Seretide prescription costs the Australian Government $72.70. For people who do not pay concessional prescription rates, a Seretide prescription costs the Australian Government $47.00.

If you are eligible to be prescribed Seretide through the PBS you will need to pay a PBS co-payment. At the time of publication, the co-payment was:

  • $31.30 for people without a concession card
  • $5.00 for concession card holders.

Other doses of Seretide have not been shown to be as effective in COPD, according to the PBS. These are still available if your doctor prescribes them, but they are not subsidised by the PBS and you will need to pay the full price.

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Other ways to help this condition

The most important way to help this condition, for those who are still smoking, is to quit smoking. Quitting at any time helps – the health of people who quit starts to improve within days.

There are a number of ways to quit smoking, including:

  • going cold turkey
  • gradually reducing then quitting
  • using nicotine replacement therapy or other medicines
  • getting counselling.

All of these methods work for some people. It is helpful to discuss your own options with your general practitioner, who can provide or organise support and counselling during your attempts to quit and prescribe some of the effective medications. A pharmacist can provide specific assistance with nicotine replacement therapy. It often takes more than one attempt to quit smoking. If the first attempt doesn’t work, try again. It is worth it.

For more information, contact the Quitline on 131 848. (13 QUIT) or get yourself an online quitting coach.

Some hospitals and health services also run pulmonary (lung) rehabilitation classes. Ask your local doctor or your local hospital.

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How new medicines are tested and approved for use in Australia

Prescription medicines go through many tests and clinical trials before they can be prescribed in Australia. All medicines go through four types of tests to assess their effectiveness, side effects and safety:

  • laboratory tests (not involving people)
  • phase 1 clinical trials, typically with 20–80 healthy volunteers, to test the safety and dosage in people with normal physical health
  • phase 2 clinical trials, typically with 100–500 volunteers with the condition, to test the effectiveness and safety
  • phase 3 clinical trials, typically with 1000–3000 volunteers with the condition, to confirm the medicine’s effectiveness and find out more about its side effects.

Sometimes, less common side effects do not become obvious until large numbers of people have used the medicine.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (Australia’s regulatory agency for medicines) checks these results before it approves the registration of the medicine for use in Australia.

Medicines are made available on the PBS if they are shown to be as good or better than other available medicines for the same condition.

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Where to find more information

You can find more information in the consumer medicine information (CMI) for Seretide. This will tell you:

  • who should not use the medicine
  • which other medicines should be avoided
  • how to take the medicine
  • most of the possible side effects
  • the ingredients.

You can get the CMI leaflet for Seretide from:

Information over the phone

NPS works with healthdirect Australia to provide the NPS Medicines Line phone service for consumers.

To get more information about any medicine call 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). This service is available from anywhere in Australia, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm AEST excluding NSW public holidays.

To report a side effect

Call the NPS Adverse Medicine Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm AEST excluding public holidays.

The AME Line is a service where you can report possible side effects of your medicine and contribute to national medicine safety efforts. Information on medicine-related side effects is passed on to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for assessment, but your personal details will remain confidential and your privacy maintained.

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