Background: Endometriosis is characterized by the presence of tissue that is morphologically and biologically similar to normal endometrium in locations outside the uterus. Surgical and hormonal treatment of endometriosis have unpleasant side effects and high rates of relapse. In China, treatment of endometriosis using Chinese herbal medicine (CHM) is routine and considerable research into the role of CHM in alleviating pain, promoting fertility, and preventing relapse has taken place.
Objectives: To review the effectiveness and safety of CHM in alleviating endometriosis-related pain and infertility.
Search strategy: We searched the Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Group Trials Register, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library) and the following English language electronic databases (from their inception to the present): MEDLINE, EMBASE, AMED, CINAHL, NLH on the 30/04/09.We also searched Chinese language electronic databases: Chinese Biomedical Literature Database (CBM), China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), Chinese Sci & Tech Journals (VIP), Traditional Chinese Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System (TCMLARS), and Chinese Medical Current Contents (CMCC).
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) involving CHM versus placebo, biomedical treatment, another CHM intervention, or CHM plus biomedical treatment versus biomedical treatment were selected. Only trials with confirmed randomisation procedures and laparoscopic diagnosis of endometriosis were included.
Data collection and analysis: Risk of bias assessment, and data extraction and analysis were performed independently by three review authors. Data were combined for meta-analysis using relative risk (RR) for dichotomous data. A fixed-effect statistical model was used, where appropriate. Data not suitable for meta-analysis are presented as descriptive data.
Main results: Two Chinese RCTs involving 158 women were included in this review. Both these trials described adequate methodology. Neither trial compared CHM with placebo treatment.There was no evidence of a significant difference in rates of symptomatic relief between CHM and gestrinone administered subsequent to laparoscopic surgery (95.65% versus 93.87%; risk ratio (RR) 1.02, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.93 to 1.12, one RCT). The intention-to-treat analysis also showed no significant difference between the groups (RR 1.04, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.18). There was no significant difference between the CHM and gestrinone groups with regard to the total pregnancy rate (69.6% versus 59.1%; RR 1.18, 95% CI 0.87 to 1.59, one RCT).CHM administered orally and then in conjunction with a herbal enema resulted in a greater proportion of women obtaining symptomatic relief than with danazol (RR 5.06, 95% CI 1.28 to 20.05; RR 5.63, 95% CI 1.47 to 21.54, respectively).Overall, 100% of women in all the groups showed some improvement in their symptoms.Oral plus enema administration of CHM showed a greater reduction in average dysmenorrhoea pain scores than did danazol (mean difference (MD) -2.90, 95% CI -4.55 to -1.25; P < 0.01).Combined oral and enema administration of CHM showed a greater improvement, measured as the disappearance or shrinkage of adnexal masses, than with danazol (RR 1.70, 95% CI 1.04 to 2.78). For lumbosacral pain, rectal discomfort, or vaginal nodules tenderness, there was no significant difference either between CHM and danazol.
Authors' conclusions: Post-surgical administration of CHM may have comparable benefits to gestrinone but with fewer side effects. Oral CHM may have a better overall treatment effect than danazol; it may be more effective in relieving dysmenorrhea and shrinking adnexal masses when used in conjunction with a CHM enema. However, more rigorous research is required to accurately assess the potential role of CHM in treating endometriosis.