Objective: The efficacy of acupuncture alone in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is controversial, but the benefit of acupuncture added to usual care has rarely been studied. We aimed to examine the benefit of acupuncture added to usual care through network meta-analysis (NMA).
Methods: PubMed, Embase, and the Cochrane Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) were searched from their inception to 1 July 2021, without any language restriction. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) testing the effect of acupuncture alone or acupuncture combined with usual care for IBS were included. The primary outcome was improvement of global IBS symptoms. Standard NMA was performed to compare differential combinations of acupuncture (including manual acupuncture and electroacupuncture), and component network meta-analysis (CNMA) was subsequently performed to determine whether acupuncture provided additional benefits to usual care. The effect size of an intervention was measured using relative ratio (RR).
Results: We included 25 RCTs (n = 3041 participants) after screening 582 retrieved articles. Five RCTs were classified as low risk of bias. The results of standard NMA showed that manual acupuncture combined with usual care ranked the most effective (sham acupuncture as common comparator; RR = 1.96 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.23 to 3.12)). The results of CNMA showed that manual acupuncture was the most effective component (RR = 1.38 (95% CI, 1.12 to 1.70)) when added to usual care.
Conclusion: Acupuncture provided additional benefits to usual care, and it might be considered as adjunctive therapy for patients who respond inadequately to usual care.