Yoga as an additional treatment option for people with asthma

Background

Asthma is a common chronic disease that affects about 300 million people worldwide. Yoga, the popularity of which has expanded globally, has the potential to relieve some asthma-related problems. However, the effects of yoga for asthma need to be confirmed due to the inconsistent findings of existing studies.

Study characteristics

We reviewed 15 studies that compared the effects of yoga with usual treatment or a 'sham' yoga in 1048 participants.

Results

We found that yoga probably improves quality of life and asthma symptoms to some extent. However, our confidence in the results is low as most of the studies were flawed in various ways. The effects of yoga on lung function were inconsistent, and we found a small amount of evidence indicating that yoga can reduce medication usage. Information on unwanted side effects was very limited; more studies are needed to assess this. High-quality studies involving large numbers of participants are required for us to be able to draw a firm conclusion about the effects of yoga for asthma.

Authors' conclusions: 

We found moderate-quality evidence that yoga probably leads to small improvements in quality of life and symptoms in people with asthma. There is more uncertainty about potential adverse effects of yoga and its impact on lung function and medication usage. RCTs with a large sample size and high methodological and reporting quality are needed to confirm the effects of yoga for asthma.

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Background: 

Asthma is a common chronic inflammatory disorder affecting about 300 million people worldwide. As a holistic therapy, yoga has the potential to relieve both the physical and psychological suffering of people with asthma, and its popularity has expanded globally. A number of clinical trials have been carried out to evaluate the effects of yoga practice, with inconsistent results.

Objectives: 

To assess the effects of yoga in people with asthma.

Search strategy: 

We systematically searched the Cochrane Airways Group Register of Trials, which is derived from systematic searches of bibliographic databases including the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, AMED, and PsycINFO, and handsearching of respiratory journals and meeting abstracts. We also searched PEDro. We searched ClinicalTrials.gov and the WHO ICTRP search portal. We searched all databases from their inception to 22 July 2015, and used no restriction on language of publication. We checked the reference lists of eligible studies and relevant review articles for additional studies. We attempted to contact investigators of eligible studies and experts in the field to learn of other published and unpublished studies.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that compared yoga with usual care (or no intervention) or sham intervention in people with asthma and reported at least one of the following outcomes: quality of life, asthma symptom score, asthma control, lung function measures, asthma medication usage, and adverse events.

Data collection and analysis: 

We extracted bibliographic information, characteristics of participants, characteristics of interventions and controls, characteristics of methodology, and results for the outcomes of our interest from eligible studies. For continuous outcomes, we used mean difference (MD) with 95% confidence interval (CI) to denote the treatment effects, if the outcomes were measured by the same scale across studies. Alternatively, if the outcomes were measured by different scales across studies, we used standardised mean difference (SMD) with 95% CI. For dichotomous outcomes, we used risk ratio (RR) with 95% CI to measure the treatment effects. We performed meta-analysis with Review Manager 5.3. We used the fixed-effect model to pool the data, unless there was substantial heterogeneity among studies, in which case we used the random-effects model instead. For outcomes inappropriate or impossible to pool quantitatively, we conducted a descriptive analysis and summarised the findings narratively.

Main results: 

We included 15 RCTs with a total of 1048 participants. Most of the trials were conducted in India, followed by Europe and the United States. The majority of participants were adults of both sexes with mild to moderate asthma for six months to more than 23 years. Five studies included yoga breathing alone, while the other studies assessed yoga interventions that included breathing, posture, and meditation. Interventions lasted from two weeks to 54 months, for no more than six months in the majority of studies. The risk of bias was low across all domains in one study and unclear or high in at least one domain for the remainder.

There was some evidence that yoga may improve quality of life (MD in Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire (AQLQ) score per item 0.57 units on a 7-point scale, 95% CI 0.37 to 0.77; 5 studies; 375 participants), improve symptoms (SMD 0.37, 95% CI 0.09 to 0.65; 3 studies; 243 participants), and reduce medication usage (RR 5.35, 95% CI 1.29 to 22.11; 2 studies) in people with asthma. The MD for AQLQ score exceeded the minimal clinically important difference (MCID) of 0.5, but whether the mean changes exceeded the MCID for asthma symptoms is uncertain due to the lack of an established MCID in the severity scores used in the included studies. The effects of yoga on change from baseline forced expiratory volume in one second (MD 0.04 litres, 95% CI -0.10 to 0.19; 7 studies; 340 participants; I2 = 68%) were not statistically significant. Two studies indicated improved asthma control, but due to very significant heterogeneity (I2 = 98%) we did not pool data. No serious adverse events associated with yoga were reported, but the data on this outcome was limited.

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