Introduction: Herpes zoster is caused by the reactivation of the latent varicella-zoster virus, which leads to acute pain that may disturb routine activities and affect patients’ quality of life. Electroacupuncture has been commonly used for treating herpetic pain in clinical treatment. However, no relevant studies have been performed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of electroacupuncture for acute control in herpetic neuralgia patients. The purpose of the current study was to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis to address the deficiencies of the current research.
Methods: Three English (PubMed, Cochrane Library, and Web of Science) and four Chinese (China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), Chinese Biomedical Literature database (CBM), Wan-fang database, and the Chinese Scientific Journals Full-text Database (VIP)) were comprehensively searched from inception to 31 December 2021. Two independent reviewers evaluated the retrieved data based on the eligibility criteria in advance. In addition, the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool was used to assess the methodological quality of the included studies.
Outcome indexes in this study included the visual analog scale, the time to cessation of pustules, the time to scabs, the time to rash healing, adverse reactions, and the incidence of postherpetic neuralgia. Sensitivity and subgroup analyses were also performed to evaluate the intervention effect specifically. In addition, publication bias was analyzed.
Results: Six randomized controlled trials (167 participants in the experimental groups and 174 participants in the control groups) were identified as reporting the application of electroacupuncture for acute herpes zoster pain and were included in this study. The results from our meta-analysis revealed that electroacupuncture was superior to control treatment according to visual analog scale, the time of rash healing, and the incidence of postherpetic neuralgia. However, in terms of the time to cessation of pustules, scabs, and adverse reactions, the results showed that electroacupuncture compared with the control group showed no significant difference. In addition, subgroup analyses indicated that 2/100 Hz-EA has more significant effects on herpetic pain. Sensitivity analyses revealed that the results of electroacupuncture for acute pain control and the rash healing time in herpetic neuralgia patients were stable. However, a publication bias was observed.
Conclusion: Our meta-analysis results showed that electroacupuncture could offer certain advantages in treating acute pain in herpetic neuralgia patients. However, small sample sizes, heterogeneity in study design, and variable methodological quality weaken these inferences. In addition, weak evidence was found for the safety of electroacupuncture.