Purpose: Controversial results have been reported concerning the effect of acupuncture on in vitro fertilization (IVF) outcomes. The current review was conducted to systematically review published studies of the effects of acupuncture on IVF outcomes.
Methods: Women undergoing IVF in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) were evaluated for the effects of acupuncture on IVF outcomes. The treatment groups involved traditional, electrical, laser, auricular, and other acupuncture techniques. The control groups consisted of no, sham, and placebo acupuncture. The PubMed, Embase, and Web of Science databases were searched. The pregnancy outcomes data are expressed as odds ratios (ORs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) based on a fixed model or random model depending on the heterogeneity determined by the Q test and I2 statistic. The major outcomes were biochemical pregnancy rate (BPR), clinical pregnancy rate (CPR), live birth rate (LBR), and ongoing pregnancy rate (OPR). Heterogeneity of the therapeutic effect was evaluated by a forest plot analysis, and publication bias was assessed by a funnel plot analysis.
Results: Thirty trials (a total of 6344 participants) were included in this review. CPR data showed a significant difference between the acupuncture and control groups (OR 1.26, 95% CI 1.06-1.50, p = 0.01), but there was significant statistical heterogeneity among the studies (p = 0.0002). When the studies were restricted to Asian or non-Asian area trials with a sensitivity analysis, the results significantly benefited the CPR in Asian group (OR 1.51, 95% CI 1.04-2.20, p = 0.03). Based on the area subgroup analysis, we found that in the Asian group, the IVF outcomes from the EA groups were all significantly higher than those from the control groups (CPR: OR 1.81, 95% CI 1.20-2.72, p = 0.005; BPR: OR 1.84, 95% CI 1.12-3.02, p = 0.02; LBR: OR 2.36, 95% CI 1.44-3.88, p = 0.0007; OPR: OR 1.94, 95% CI 1.03-3.64, p = 0.04). Meanwhile, compared with other acupuncture time, the IVF outcome results were significantly superior in the acupuncture group when acupuncture was conducted during controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH) (CPR: OR 1.71, 95% CI 1.27-2.29, p = 0.0004; LBR: OR 2.41, 95% CI 1.54-3.78, p = 0.0001; BPR: OR 1.50, 95% CI 1.02-2.20, p = 0.04; OPR: OR 1.88, 95% CI 1.06-3.34, p = 0.03). However, when acupuncture was conducted at the time of embryo transfer, the BPR and OPR from the acupuncture groups were significantly lower than those of the controls in the Asian group (BPR: OR 0.67, 95% CI 0.48-0.92, p = 0.01; OPR: OR 0.68, 95% CI 0.49-0.96, p = 0.03).
Conclusions: Based on an analysis of the studies, acupuncture improves the CPR among women undergoing IVF. When the studies were restricted to Asian or non-Asian area patients, compared with traditional acupuncture and other methods, electrical acupuncture yielded better IVF outcomes. Optimal positive effects could be expected using acupuncture in IVF during COH, especially in Asian area. However, as a limitation of this review, most of the included studies did not mention the number of embryos transferred.
Keywords: Acupuncture; Clinical pregnancy rate; In vitro fertilization.