Author(s): McFarland LV
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Abstract Meta-analyses are used to evaluate pooled effects of a wide variety of investigational agents, but the interpretation of the results into clinical practices may be difficult. This mini-review offers a three-step process to enable healthcare providers to decipher pooled meta-analysis estimates into results that are useful for therapeutic decisions. As an example of how meta-analyses should be interpreted, a recent meta-analysis of probiotics for the prevention of paediatric antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (AAD) and the prevention of Clostridium difficile infections (CDI) will be used. First, the pooled results of this meta-analysis indicates a significant protective efficacy for AAD is found when the 16 different types of probiotics are combined (pooled relative risk (RR) = 0.43, 95\% confidence interval (CI)=0.33-0.56) and also a significant reduction of paediatric CDI (pooled RR=0.34, 95\%CI=0.16-0.74) was found pooling four different types of probiotics. Secondly, because the efficacy of probiotics is strain-specific, it is necessary to do a sensitivity analysis, restricting the meta-analysis to one specific strain. Two strains, Saccharomyces boulardii lyo and Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG showed significant efficacy for paediatric AAD when pooled (pooled RR for S. boulardii = 0.43, 95\%CI=0.21-0.86 and pooled RR for L. rhamnosus GG = 0.44, 95\%CI=0.20-0.95). Thirdly, if studies within probiotic types have different results, it is prudent to examine these studies individually to determine the reasons why non-significant differences in efficacy were found. By drilling down through these three analytic layers, physicians will be confident in recommending the correct probiotic strain to their patients.
This article was published in Benef Microbes
and referenced in Journal of Yoga & Physical Therapy