Background: Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is characterised by the clinical signs of oligo-amenorrhoea, infertility and hirsutism. Conventional treatment of PCOS includes a range of oral pharmacological agents, lifestyle changes and surgical modalities. Beta-endorphin is present in the follicular fluid of both normal and polycystic ovaries. It was demonstrated that the beta-endorphin levels in ovarian follicular fluid of otherwise healthy women who were undergoing ovulation were much higher than the levels measured in plasma. Given that acupuncture impacts on beta-endorphin production, which may affect gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) secretion, it is postulated that acupuncture may have a role in ovulation induction via increased beta-endorphin production effecting GnRH secretion. This is an update of our previous review published in 2016.
Objectives: To assess the effectiveness and safety of acupuncture treatment for oligo/anovulatory women with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) for both fertility and symptom control.
Search methods: We identified relevant studies from databases including the Gynaecology and Fertility Group Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CNKI, CBM and VIP. We also searched trial registries and reference lists from relevant papers. CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CNKI and VIP searches are current to May 2018. CBM database search is to November 2015.
Selection criteria: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that studied the efficacy of acupuncture treatment for oligo/anovulatory women with PCOS. We excluded quasi- or pseudo-RCTs.
Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently selected the studies, extracted data and assessed risk of bias. We calculated risk ratios (RR), mean difference (MD), standardised mean difference (SMD) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs). Primary outcomes were live birth rate, multiple pregnancy rate and ovulation rate, and secondary outcomes were clinical pregnancy rate, restored regular menstruation period, miscarriage rate and adverse events. We assessed the quality of the evidence using GRADE methods.
Main results: We included eight RCTs with 1546 women. Five RCTs were included in our previous review and three new RCTs were added in this update of the review. They compared true acupuncture versus sham acupuncture (three RCTs), true acupuncture versus relaxation (one RCT), true acupuncture versus clomiphene (one RCT), low-frequency electroacupuncture versus physical exercise or no intervention (one RCT) and true acupuncture versus Diane-35 (two RCTs). Studies that compared true acupuncture versus Diane-35 did not measure fertility outcomes as they were focused on symptom control.Seven of the studies were at high risk of bias in at least one domain.For true acupuncture versus sham acupuncture, we could not exclude clinically relevant differences in live birth (RR 0.97, 95% CI 0.76 to 1.24; 1 RCT, 926 women; low-quality evidence); multiple pregnancy rate (RR 0.89, 95% CI 0.33 to 2.45; 1 RCT, 926 women; low-quality evidence); ovulation rate (SMD 0.02, 95% CI -0.15 to 0.19, I2 = 0%; 2 RCTs, 1010 women; low-quality evidence); clinical pregnancy rate (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.82 to 1.29; I2 = 0%; 3 RCTs, 1117 women; low-quality evidence) and miscarriage rate (RR 1.10, 95% CI 0.77 to 1.56; 1 RCT, 926 women; low-quality evidence).Number of intermenstrual days may have improved in participants receiving true acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture (MD -312.09 days, 95% CI -344.59 to -279.59; 1 RCT, 141 women; low-quality evidence).True acupuncture probably worsens adverse events compared to sham acupuncture (RR 1.16, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.31; I2 = 0%; 3 RCTs, 1230 women; moderate-quality evidence).No studies reported data on live birth rate and multiple pregnancy rate for the other comparisons: physical exercise or no intervention, relaxation and clomiphene. Studies including Diane-35 did not measure fertility outcomes.We were uncertain whether acupuncture improved ovulation rate (measured by ultrasound three months post treatment) compared to relaxation (MD 0.35, 95% CI 0.14 to 0.56; 1 RCT, 28 women; very low-quality evidence) or Diane-35 (RR 1.45, 95% CI 0.87 to 2.42; 1 RCT, 58 women; very low-quality evidence).Overall evidence ranged from very low quality to moderate quality. The main limitations were failure to report important clinical outcomes and very serious imprecision.
Authors' conclusions: For true acupuncture versus sham acupuncture we cannot exclude clinically relevant differences in live birth rate, multiple pregnancy rate, ovulation rate, clinical pregnancy rate or miscarriage. Number of intermenstrual days may improve in participants receiving true acupuncture compared to sham acupuncture. True acupuncture probably worsens adverse events compared to sham acupuncture.No studies reported data on live birth rate and multiple pregnancy rate for the other comparisons: physical exercise or no intervention, relaxation and clomiphene. Studies including Diane-35 did not measure fertility outcomes as the women in these trials did not seek fertility.We are uncertain whether acupuncture improves ovulation rate (measured by ultrasound three months post treatment) compared to relaxation or Diane-35. The other comparisons did not report on this outcome.Adverse events were recorded in the acupuncture group for the comparisons physical exercise or no intervention, clomiphene and Diane-35. These included dizziness, nausea and subcutaneous haematoma. Evidence was very low quality with very wide CIs and very low event rates.There are only a limited number of RCTs in this area, limiting our ability to determine effectiveness of acupuncture for PCOS.