To evaluate evidence for the efficacy of acupuncture for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing acupuncture with sham acupuncture, other interventions that may have a therapeutic effect, or no intervention, for the treatment of CFS, were searched for in the following databases up to March 2018: Pubmed; Embase; the Cochrane Library; Web of Science; Wanfang database; China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI); Chinese Biomedicine (CBM) database; and VIP database. Risk of bias was determined using the Cochrane tool. Meta-analyses were performed using RevMan V.5.3 software. The GRADE approach (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) was adopted for levels of evidence.
Sixteen studies with 1346 subjects were included. Most studies had low methodological quality. Meta-analyses showed a favourable effect of acupuncture on overall response rate compared with sham acupuncture (four studies, 281 participants, RR=2.08, 95% CI 1.4 to 3.1, I2=64%, low certainty) and Chinese herbal medicine (three studies, 290 participants, RR=1.17, 95% CI 1.07 to 1.29, I2=0%, low certainty). Acupuncture also appeared to significantly reduce fatigue severity measured by Chalder's Fatigue Scale and the Fatigue Severity Scale compared with other types of control.
Our review indicated that acupuncture was more effective than sham acupuncture and other interventions (Chinese herbal medicine, mainly), but no firm conclusion could be reached owing to limited data, poor quality and potentially exaggerated effect size evaluation. Further large, rigorously designed and reported RCTs are required.