BACKGROUND: Chronic hepatitis B is a liver disease associated with high morbidity and mortality. Chronic hepatitis B requires long-term management aiming to reduce the risks of hepatocellular inflammatory necrosis, liver fibrosis, decompensated liver cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer, as well as to improve health-related quality of life. Acupuncture is being used to decrease discomfort and improve immune function in people with chronic hepatitis B. However, the benefits and harms of acupuncture still need to be established in a rigorous way.
OBJECTIVES: To assess the benefits and harms of acupuncture versus no intervention or sham acupuncture in people with chronic hepatitis B.
SEARCH METHODS: We undertook electronic searches of the Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, LILACS, Science Citation Index Expanded, Conference Proceedings Citation Index - Science, China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), Chongqing VIP (CQVIP), Wanfang Data, and SinoMed to 1 March 2019. We also searched the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (www.who.int/ictrp), ClinicalTrials.gov (www.clinicaltrials.gov/), and the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry (ChiCTR) for ongoing or unpublished trials until 1 March 2019.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised clinical trials, irrespective of publication status, language, and blinding, comparing acupuncture versus no intervention or sham acupuncture in people with chronic hepatitis B. We included participants of any sex and age, diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B as defined by the trialists or according to guidelines. We allowed co-interventions when the co-interventions were administered equally to all intervention groups.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Review authors in pairs individually retrieved data from reports and through correspondence with investigators. Primary outcomes were all-cause mortality, proportion of participants with one or more serious adverse events, and health-related quality of life. Secondary outcomes were hepatitis B-related mortality, hepatitis B-related morbidity, and adverse events considered not to be serious. We presented the pooled results as risk ratios (RRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We assessed the risks of bias using risk of bias domains with predefined definitions. We put more weight on the estimate closest to zero effect when results with fixed-effect and random-effects models differed. We evaluated the certainty of evidence using GRADE.
MAIN RESULTS: We included eight randomised clinical trials with 555 randomised participants. All included trials compared acupuncture versus no intervention. These trials assessed heterogeneous acupuncture interventions. All trials used heterogeneous co-interventions applied equally in the compared groups. Seven trials included participants with chronic hepatitis B, and one trial included participants with chronic hepatitis B with comorbid tuberculosis. All trials were assessed at overall high risk of bias, and the certainty of evidence for all outcomes was very low due to high risk of bias for each outcome, imprecision of results (the confidence intervals were wide), and publication bias (small sample size of the trials, and all trials were conducted in China). Additionally, 79 trials lacked the necessary methodological information to ensure their inclusion in our review.None of the included trials aim to assess all-cause mortality, serious adverse events, health-related quality of life, hepatitis B-related mortality, and hepatitis B-related morbidity. We are uncertain whether acupuncture, compared with no intervention, has an effect regarding adverse events considered not to be serious (RR 0.67, 95% CI 0.43 to 1.06; I� = 0%; 3 trials; 203 participants; very low-certainty evidence) or detectable hepatitis B e-antigen (HBeAg) (RR 0.64, 95% CI 0.11 to 3.68; I� = 98%; 2 trials; 158 participants; very low-certainty evidence). Acupuncture showed a reduction in detectable hepatitis B virus (HBV) DNA (a non-validated surrogate outcome; RR 0.45, 95% CI 0.27 to 0.74; 1 trial, 58 participants; very low-certainty evidence). We are uncertain whether acupuncture has an effect regarding the remaining separately reported adverse events considered not to be serious.Three of the eight included trials received academic funding from government or hospital. None of the remaining five trials reported information on funding.
AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The clinical effects of acupuncture for chronic hepatitis B remain unknown. The included trials lacked data on all-cause mortality, health-related quality of life, serious adverse events, hepatitis-B related mortality, and hepatitis-B related morbidity. The vast number of excluded trials lacked clear descriptions of their design and conduct. Whether acupuncture influences adverse events considered not to be serious is uncertain. It remains unclear if acupuncture affects HBeAg, and if it is associated with reduction in detectable HBV DNA. Based on available data from only one or two small trials on adverse events considered not to be serious and on the surrogate outcomes HBeAg and HBV DNA, the certainty of evidence is very low. In view of the wide usage of acupuncture, any conclusion that one might try to draw in the future should be based on data on patient and clinically relevant outcomes, assessed in large, high-quality randomised sham-controlled trials with homogeneous groups of participants and transparent funding.