Background: Fatigue and unintentional weight loss are two of the commonest symptoms experienced by people with advanced progressive illness. Appropriate interventions may bring considerable improvements in function and quality of life to seriously ill people and their families, reducing physical, psychological and spiritual distress.
Objectives: To conduct an overview of the evidence available on the efficacy of interventions used in the management of fatigue and/or unintentional weight loss in adults with advanced progressive illness by reviewing the evidence contained within Cochrane reviews.
Methods: We searched the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR) for all systematic reviews evaluating any interventions for the management of fatigue and/or unintentional weight loss in adults with advanced progressive illness (The Cochrane Library 2010, Issue 8). We reviewed titles of interest by abstract. Where the relevance of a review remained unclear we reached a consensus regarding the relevance of the participant group and the outcome measures to the overview. Two overview authors extracted the data independently using a data extraction form. We used the measurement tool AMSTAR (Assessment of Multiple SysTemAtic Reviews) to assess the methodological quality of each systematic review.
Main results: We included 27 systematic reviews (302 studies with 31,833 participants) in the overview. None of the included systematic reviews reported quantitative data on the efficacy of interventions to manage fatigue or weight loss specific to people with advanced progressive illness. All of the included reviews apart from one were deemed of high methodological quality. For the remaining review we were unable to ascertain the methodological quality of the research strategy as it was described. None of the systematic reviews adequately described whether conflict of interests were present within the included studies.Management of fatigue Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis/motor neuron disease (ALS/MND) - we identified one systematic review (two studies and 52 participants); the intervention was exercise.Cancer - we identified five systematic reviews (116 studies with 17,342 participants); the pharmacological interventions were eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and any drug therapy for the management of cancer-related fatigue and the non pharmacological interventions were exercise, interventions by breast care nurses and psychosocial interventions.Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) - we identified three systematic reviews (59 studies and 4048 participants); the interventions were self management education programmes, nutritional support and pulmonary rehabilitation.Cystic fibrosis - we identified one systematic review (nine studies and 833 participants); the intervention was physical training.Human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) - we identified two systematic reviews (21 studies and 748 participants); the interventions were progressive resistive exercise and aerobic exercise.Multiple sclerosis (MS) - we identified five systematic reviews (23 studies and 1502 participants); the pharmacological interventions were amantadine and carnitine. The non pharmacological interventions were diet, exercise and occupational therapy.Mixed conditions in advanced stages of illness - we identified one systematic review (five studies and 453 participants); the intervention was medically assisted hydration.Management of weight loss ALS/MND - we identified one systematic review but no studies met the inclusion criteria for the systematic review; the intervention was enteral tube feeding.Cancer - we identified three systematic reviews with a fourth systematic review also containing extractable data on cancer (66 studies and 5601 participants); the pharmacological interventions were megestrol acetate and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (this systematic review is also included in the cancer fatigue section above). The non pharmacological interventions were enteral tube feeding and non invasive interventions for patients with lung cancer.COPD - we identified one systematic review (59 studies and 4048 participants); the intervention was nutritional support. This systematic review is also included in the COPD fatigue section.Cystic fibrosis - we identified two systematic reviews (three studies and 131 participants); the interventions were enteral tube feeding and oral calorie supplements.HIV/AIDS - we identified four systematic reviews (42 studies and 2071 participants); the pharmacological intervention was anabolic steroids. The non pharmacological interventions were nutritional interventions, progressive resistive exercise and aerobic exercise. Both of the systematic reviews on exercise interventions were also included in the HIV/AIDS fatigue section.MS - we found no systematic reviews which considered interventions to manage unintentional weight loss for people with a clinical diagnosis of multiple sclerosis at any stage of illness.Mixed conditions in advanced stages of illness - we identified two systematic reviews (32 studies and 4826 participants); the interventions were megestrol acetate and medically assisted nutrition.
Authors' conclusions: There is a lack of robust evidence for interventions to manage fatigue and/or unintentional weight loss in the advanced stage of progressive illnesses such as advanced cancer, heart failure, lung failure, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease, Parkinson's disease, dementia and AIDS. The evidence contained within this overview provides some insight into interventions which may prove of benefit within this population such as exercise, some pharmacological treatments and support for self management.Researchers could improve the methodological quality of future studies by blinding of outcome assessors. Adopting uniform reporting mechanisms for fatigue and weight loss outcome measures would also allow the opportunity for meta-analysis of small studies.Researchers could also improve the applicability of recommendations for interventions to manage fatigue and unintentional weight loss in advanced progressive illness by including subgroup analysis of this population within systematic reviews of applicable interventions.More research is required to ascertain the best interventions to manage fatigue and/or weight loss in advanced illness. There is a need for standardised reporting of these symptoms and agreement amongst researchers of the minimum duration of studies and minimum percentage change in symptom experience that proves the benefits of an intervention. There are, however, challenges in providing meaningful outcome measurements against a background of deteriorating health through disease progression. Interventions to manage these symptoms must also be mindful of the impact on quality of life and should be focused on patient-orientated rather than purely disease-orientated experiences for patients. Systematic reviews and primary intervention studies should include the impact of the interventions on standardised validated quality of life measures.