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Positive expiratory pressure physiotherapy for airway clearance in people with cystic fibrosis (Cochrane review) [with consumer summary]
McIlwaine M, Button B, Nevitt SJ
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2019;Issue 11
systematic review

BACKGROUND: Chest physiotherapy is widely prescribed to assist the clearance of airway secretions in people with cystic fibrosis (CF). Positive expiratory pressure (PEP) devices provide back pressure to the airways during expiration. This may improve clearance by building up gas behind mucus via collateral ventilation and by temporarily increasing functional residual capacity. The developers of the PEP technique recommend using PEP with a mask in order to avoid air leaks via the upper airways and mouth. In addition, increasing forced residual capacity (FRC) has not been demonstrated using mouthpiece PEP. Given the widespread use of PEP devices, there is a need to determine the evidence for their effect. This is an update of a previously published review. OBJECTIVES: To determine the effectiveness and acceptability of PEP devices compared to other forms of physiotherapy as a means of improving mucus clearance and other outcomes in people with CF. SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Cystic Fibrosis and Genetic Disorders Group Trials Register comprising of references identified from comprehensive electronic database searches and handsearches of relevant journals and abstract books of conference proceedings. The electronic database CINAHL was also searched from 1982 to 2017. Most recent search of the Group's CF Trials Register: 20 February 2019. SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled studies in which PEP was compared with any other form of physiotherapy in people with CF. This included, postural drainage and percussion (PDPV), active cycle of breathing techniques (ACBT), oscillating PEP devices, thoracic oscillating devices, bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPaP) and exercise. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Three authors independently applied the inclusion and exclusion criteria to publications, assessed the risk of bias of the included studies and assessed the quality of the evidence using the GRADE recommendations. MAIN RESULTS: A total of 28 studies (involving 788 children and adults) were included in the review; 18 studies involving 296 participants were cross-over in design. Data were not published in sufficient detail in most of these studies to perform any meta-analysis. In 22 of the 28 studies the PEP technique was performed using a mask, in three of the studies a mouthpiece was used with nose clips and in three studies it was unclear whether a mask or mouthpiece was used. These studies compared PEP to ACBT, autogenic drainage (AD), oral oscillating PEP devices, high-frequency chest wall oscillation (HFCWO) and BiPaP and exercise. Forced expiratory volume in one second was the review's primary outcome and the most frequently reported outcome in the studies (24 studies, 716 participants). Single interventions or series of treatments that continued for up to three months demonstrated little or no difference in effect between PEP and other methods of airway clearance on this outcome (low- to moderate-quality evidence). However, long-term studies had equivocal or conflicting results regarding the effect on this outcome (low- to moderate-quality evidence). A second primary outcome was the number of respiratory exacerbations. There was a lower exacerbation rate in participants using PEP compared to other techniques when used with a mask for at least one year (five studies, 232 participants; moderate- to high-quality evidence). In one of the included studies which used PEP with a mouthpiece, it was reported (personal communication) that there was no difference in the number of respiratory exacerbations (66 participants, low-quality evidence). Participant preference was reported in 10 studies; and in all studies with an intervention period of at least one month, this was in favour of PEP. The results for the remaining outcome measures (including our third primary outcome of mucus clearance) were not examined or reported in sufficient detail to provide any high-quality evidence; only very low- to moderate-quality evidence was available for other outcomes. There was limited evidence reported on adverse events; these were measured in five studies, two of which found no events. In a study where infants performing either PEP or PDPV experienced some gastro-oesophageal reflux , this was more severe in the PDPV group (26 infants, low-quality evidence). In PEP versus oscillating PEP, adverse events were only reported in the flutter group (five participants complained of dizziness, which improved after further instructions on device use was provided) (22 participants, low-quality evidence). In PEP versus HFCWO, from one long-term high-quality study (107 participants) there was little or no difference in terms of number of adverse events; however, those in the PEP group had fewer adverse events related to the lower airways when compared to HFCWO (high-certainty evidence). Many studies had a risk of bias as they did not report how the randomisation sequence was either generated or concealed. Most studies reported the number of dropouts and also reported on all planned outcome measures. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The evidence provided by this review is of variable quality, but suggests that all techniques and devices described may have a place in the clinical treatment of people with CF. Following meta-analyses of the effects of PEP versus other airway clearance techniques on lung function and patient preference, this Cochrane review demonstrated that there was high-quality evidence that showed a significant reduction in pulmonary exacerbations when PEP using a mask was compared with HFCWO. It is important to note that airway clearance techniques should be individualised throughout life according to developmental stages, patient preferences, pulmonary symptoms and lung function. This also applies as conditions vary between baseline function and pulmonary exacerbations.

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