Acupuncture for Breathlessness in Advanced Diseases: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
Philipp von Trott , Shiao Li Oei , Christina Ramsenthaler
Context: Non-pharmacological approaches are effective strategies for difficult to palliate breathlessness. Although acupuncture is effective for dyspnea in early-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), little is known about its effects in patients with advanced (non)malignant diseases.
Objectives: The objective of this study was to identify and examine the evidence of acupuncture on breathlessness in advanced malignant and nonmalignant diseases.
Methods: Systematic literature review of randomized controlled trials of acupuncture and acupressure searched in five databases. Included were adult participants with at least 25% having advanced diseases such as cancer or COPD with severe breathlessness. Primary outcome was severity of dyspnea on Visual Analogue Scale or Borg Scale. Secondary outcomes included quality of life, function, and acceptability. Data were pooled using a random effects model of standardized mean differences.
Results: Twelve studies with 597 patients (347 COPD, 190 advanced cancer) were included. For breathlessness severity, significant differences were obtained in a meta-analysis (10 studies with 480 patients; standardized mean difference (SMD) = -1.77 [95% CI -3.05, -0.49; P = 0.007; I2 = 90%]) and in a subgroup analysis of using sham acupuncture control groups and a treatment duration of at least three weeks (6 studies with 302 patients; SMD = -2.53 [95% CI -4.07, -0.99; P = 0.001; I2 = 91%]). Exercise tolerance (6-minute walk test) improved significantly in the acupuncture group (6 studies with 287 patients; SMD = 0.93 [95% CI 0.27, 1.59; P = 0.006; I2 = 85%]). In four of six studies, quality of life improved in the acupuncture group.
Conclusion: Acupuncture improved breathlessness severity in patients with advanced diseases. The methodological heterogeneity, low power, and potential morphine-sparing effects of acupuncture as add-on should be further addressed in future trials.