BACKGROUND: Chronic hepatitis B is associated with high morbidity and mortality. Chronic hepatitis B requires long-term management aiming at reduction of the risks of hepatocellular inflammatory necrosis, liver fibrosis, decompensated liver cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer, and improving health-related quality of life. The Chinese herbal medicine formula Xiao Chai Hu Tang has been used to decrease discomfort and replication of the virus in people with chronic hepatitis B. However, the benefits and harms of Xiao Chai Hu Tang formula have never been established with rigorous review methodology.
OBJECTIVES: To assess the benefits and harms of Xiao Chai Hu Tang formula versus placebo or no intervention in people with chronic hepatitis B.
SEARCH METHODS: We searched The Cochrane Hepato-Biliary Group Controlled Trials Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE Ovid, Embase Ovid, and seven other databases 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ClinicalTrials.gov (www.clinicaltrials.gov/), and the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry for ongoing or unpublished trials to 1 March 2019.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised clinical trials, irrespective of publication status, language, and blinding, comparing Xiao Chai Hu Tang formula versus no intervention or placebo in people with chronic hepatitis B. We included participants of any sex and age, diagnosed with chronic hepatitis B according to guidelines or as defined by the trialists. We allowed co-interventions when the co-interventions were administered equally to all the intervention groups.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Review authors independently retrieved data from reports and after correspondence with investigators. Our primary outcomes were all-cause mortality, serious adverse events, and health-related quality of life. Our secondary outcomes were hepatitis B-related mortality, hepatitis B-related morbidity, and adverse events considered 'not to be serious'. We presented the meta-analysed results as risk ratios (RR) with 95% confidence intervals (CI). We assessed the risks of bias using risk of bias domains with predefined definitions. We used GRADE methodology to evaluate our certainty in the evidence.
MAIN RESULTS: We included 10 randomised clinical trials with 934 participants, but only five trials with 490 participants provided data for analysis. All the trials compared Xiao Chai Hu Tang formula with no intervention. All trials appeared to have been conducted and published only in China. The included trials assessed heterogeneous forms of Xiao Chai Hu Tang formula, administered for three to eight months. One trial included participants with hepatitis B and comorbid tuberculosis, and one trial included participants with hepatitis B and liver cirrhosis. The remaining trials included participants with hepatitis B only. All the trials were at high risk of bias, and the certainty of evidence for all outcomes that provided data for analyses was very low. We downgraded the evidence by one or two levels because of outcome risk of bias, inconsistency or heterogeneity of results (opposite direction of effect), indirectness of evidence (use of surrogate outcomes instead of clinically relevant outcomes), imprecision of results (the CIs were wide), and publication bias (small sample size of the trials). Additionally, 47 trials lacked the necessary methodological information needed to ensure the inclusion of these trials in our review. None of the included trials aimed to assess clinically relevant outcomes such as all-cause mortality, serious adverse events, health-related quality of life, hepatitis B-related mortality, or hepatitis B-related morbidity. The effects of Xiao Chai Hu Tang formula on the proportion of participants with adverse events considered 'not to be serious' is uncertain (RR 0.43, 95% CI 0.02 to 11.98; I2 = 69%; very low-certainty evidence). Only three trials with 222 participants reported the proportion of people with detectable hepatitis B virus DNA (HBV-DNA), but the evidence that Xiao Chai Hu Tang formula reduces the presence of HBV-DNA in the blood (a surrogate outcome) is uncertain (RR 0.62, 95% CI 0.45 to 0.85; I2 = 0%; very low-certainty evidence). Only two trials with 160 participants reported the proportion of people with detectable hepatitis B virus e-antigen (HBeAg; a surrogate outcome) (RR 0.72, 95% CI 0.50 to 1.02; I2 = 38%; very low-certainty evidence) and the evidence is uncertain. The evidence is also uncertain for separately reported adverse events considered 'not to be serious'.
FUNDING: two of the 10 included trials received academic funding from government or hospital. None of the remaining eight trials reported information on funding.
AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The clinical effects of Xiao Chai Hu Tang formula for chronic hepatitis B remain unclear. The included trials were small and of low methodological quality. Despite the wide use of Xiao Chai Hu Tang formula, we lack data on all-cause mortality, serious adverse events, health-related quality of life, hepatitis B-related mortality, and hepatitis B-related morbidity. The evidence in this systematic review comes from data obtained from a maximum three trials. We graded the certainty of evidence as very low for adverse events considered not to be serious and the surrogate outcomes HBeAg and HBV-DNA. We found a large number of trials which lacked clear description of their design and conduct, and hence, these trials are not included in the present review. As all identified trials were conducted in China, there might be a concern about the applicability of this review outside China. Large-sized, high-quality randomised sham-controlled trials with homogeneous groups of participants and transparent funding are lacking.