Moxibustion in the management of irritable bowel syndrome: systematic review and meta-analysis

BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013 Oct 2:13:247. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-13-247.


Background: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common functional gastrointestinal disorder. Many patients suffer from IBS that can be difficult to treat, thus complementary therapies which may be effective and have a lower likelihood of adverse effects are being sought.This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed at critically evaluating the current evidence on moxibustion for improving global symptoms of IBS.

Methods: We searched Medline, EMBASE, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, AMED, CINAHL, and CNKI databases for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of moxibustion comparing with sham moxibustion, pharmacological medications, and other active treatments in patients with IBS. Trials should report global symptom improvement as an outcome measure. Risk of bias for each RCT was assessed according to criteria by the Cochrane Collaboration, and the dichotomous data were pooled according to the control intervention to obtain a risk ratio (RR) of global symptom improvement after moxibustion, with 95% confidence intervals (CI).

Results: A total of 20 RCTs were eligible for inclusion (n = 1625). The risk of bias was generally high. Compared with pharmacological medications, moxibustion significantly alleviated overall IBS symptoms but there was a moderate inconsistency among studies (7 RCTs, RR 1.33, 95% CI [1.15, 1.55], I² = 46%). Moxibustion combined with acupuncture was more effective than pharmacological therapy but a moderate inconsistency among studies was found (4 RCTs, RR 1.24, 95% CI [1.09, 1.41], I² = 36%). When moxibustion was added to pharmacological medications or herbal medicine, no additive benefit of moxibustion was shown compared with pharmacological medications or herbal medicine alone. One small sham-controlled trial found no difference between moxibustion and sham control in symptom severity (mean difference 0.35, 95% CI [-0.77, 1.47]). Moxibustion appears to be associated with few adverse events but the evidence is limited due to poor reporting.

Conclusions: This systematic review and meta-analysis suggests that moxibustion may provide benefit to IBS patients although the risk of bias in the included studies is relatively high. Future studies are necessary to confirm whether this finding is reproducible in carefully-designed and conducted trials and to firmly establish the place of moxibustion in current practice.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / therapy*
  • Male
  • Moxibustion / adverse effects
  • Moxibustion / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Treatment Outcome