Introduction

In vitro fertilisation with embryo transfer (IVF-ET) is an effective treatment for infertility worldwide.  During the 3-year period of this study, the number of initiated cycles increased by almost 9.5% per annum, while the number of babies born increased by 9.1% per annum. In recent years, although some new and interdisciplinary interventions have been developed, the average success rates per IVF cycle remain low, and progress in developing safe and effective therapies has been limited. Consequently, many infertile women then asked help to complementary and alternative medical treatments, among which acupuncture is a frequently used adjunctive therapy.

Whether acupuncture improves IVF pregnancy rates is still a matter of debate. The present methodical review is designed to summarize evidence concerning the therapeutic effect of acupuncture on IVF outcomes during the administration of IVF-ET, which may provide guidance for clinical practice.

Effects on IVF outcomes

Clinical pregnancy outcome was available from all the 31 trials, and live birth outcome was available from 11 trials. Totally 20 trials (n = 2689) found that acupuncture can significantly improve the clinical pregnancy rate (CPR) , while 9 trials (n = 1541) found that acupuncture had no significant effect on CPR when comparing with the control. Eight trials (n = 1437) found that acupuncture can significantly improve the live birth rate (LBR) , while 1 trial (n = 66) found that acupuncture had no significant effect on LBR . In addition, two trials (n = 220) found that acupuncture had a negative effect on both CPR and LBR.

Other IVF outcomes including implantation rate (IR), biochemical pregnancy rate (BPR), miscarriage rate (MR) and ongoing pregnancy rate (OPR) were available from some of these 31 trials.

Conclusion

This system review indicated that acupuncture appears to be beneficial to women with poor ovarian reserve or with previous unsuccessful attempts of IVF-ET. The great heterogeneity and different levels of methodological quality among RCTs may account for variations in outcomes reported by them.

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