Would integrated Western and traditional Chinese medicine have more benefits for stroke rehabilitation? A systematic review and meta-analysis

Background

Stroke is a major cause of death or long-term disability worldwide. Many patients with stroke receive integrative therapy consisting of Western medicine (WM) and routine rehabilitation in conjunction with Chinese medicine (CM), such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. However, there is no available evidence on the effectiveness of the combined use of WM and CM interventions in stroke rehabilitation.

Aims

The purpose of this meta-analysis is to evaluate the results of all individual studies to assess the combined use of CM and WM in stroke rehabilitation compared with WM only.

Methods

The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis guidelines were followed. MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane and China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) were searched. The included outcomes were dependency, motor function, depression and swallowing function. Subgroup analysis was performed, and publication bias was assessed using funnel plots.

Summary of review

58 studies and 6339 patients were included in the meta-analysis. Subgroup analysis revealed that combined therapy comprising both acupuncture and WM had a superior effect on improving dependency and swallowing function compared with standard WM therapy alone. Potential superiority of combined therapy comprising CM and WM in improving depression compared with standard WM therapy was also found.

Conclusions

Our results indicate that the combined use of CM and WM could be more efficacious in stroke rehabilitation compared with the use of WM therapy alone. However, most studies were short in duration (2 to 4 weeks) and prone to different types of biases, which prevents making any conclusion regarding the long-term effects and raises concerns regarding true efficacy in context of high likelihood of Hawthorn bias. So, more randomised controlled trials with more rigorous design and longer duration of treatment and follow-up need to be conducted to compare WM alone versus WM and CM combined.

PROSPERO registration number

CRD42020152050.

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