Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a rare, chronic autoimmune inflammatory disease with a prevalence varying from 4.3 to 150 people in 100,000, or approximately five million people worldwide. Systemic manifestations frequently include internal organ involvement, a characteristic malar rash on the face, pain in joints and muscles, and profound fatigue. Exercise is purported to be beneficial for people with SLE. For this review, we focused on studies that examined all types of structured exercise as an adjunctive therapy in the management of SLE.
To evaluate the benefits and harms of structured exercise as adjunctive therapy for adults with SLE compared with usual pharmacological care, usual pharmacological care plus placebo and usual pharmacological care plus non-pharmacological care.
We used standard, extensive Cochrane search methods. The latest search date was 30 March 2022.
We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of exercise as an adjunct to usual pharmacological treatment in SLE compared with placebo, usual pharmacological care alone and another non-pharmacological treatment. Major outcomes were fatigue, functional capacity, disease activity, quality of life, pain, serious adverse events, and withdrawals due to any reason, including any adverse events.
We used standard Cochrane methods. Our major outcomes were 1. fatigue, 2. functional capacity, 3. disease activity, 4. quality of life, 5. pain, 6. serious adverse events, and 7. withdrawals due to any reason. Our minor outcomes were 8. responder rate, 9. aerobic fitness, 10. depression, and 11. anxiety. We used GRADE to assess certainty of evidence. The primary comparison was exercise compared with placebo.
We included 13 studies (540 participants) in this review. Studies compared exercise as an adjunct to usual pharmacological care (antimalarials, immunosuppressants, and oral glucocorticoids) with usual pharmacological care plus placebo (one study); usual pharmacological care (six studies); and another non-pharmacological treatment such as relaxation therapy (seven studies). Most studies had selection bias, and all studies had performance and detection bias. We downgraded the evidence for all comparisons because of a high risk of bias and imprecision. Exercise plus usual pharmacological care versus placebo plus usual pharmacological care Evidence from a single small study (17 participants) that compared whole body vibration exercise to whole body placebo vibration exercise (vibrations switched off) indicated that exercise may have little to no effect on fatigue, functional capacity, and pain (low-certainty evidence). We are uncertain whether exercise results in fewer or more withdrawals (very low-certainty evidence). The study did not report disease activity, quality of life, and serious adverse events. The study measured fatigue using the self-reported Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy - Fatigue (FACIT-Fatigue), scale 0 to 52; lower score means less fatigue. People who did not exercise rated their fatigue at 38 points and those who did exercise rated their fatigue at 33 points (mean difference (MD) 5 points lower, 95% confidence interval (CI) 13.29 lower to 3.29 higher). The study measured functional capacity using the self-reported 36-item Short Form health questionnaire (SF-36) Physical Function domain, scale 0 to 100; higher score means better function. People who did not exercise rated their functional capacity at 70 points and those who did exercise rated their functional capacity at 67.5 points (MD 2.5 points lower, 95% CI 23.78 lower to 18.78 higher). The study measured pain using the SF-36 Pain domain, scale 0 to 100; lower scores mean less pain. People who did not exercise rated their pain at 43 points and those who did exercise rated their pain at 34 points (MD 9 points lower, 95% CI 28.88 lower to 10.88 higher). More participants from the exercise group (3/11, 27%) withdrew from the study than the placebo group (1/10, 10%) (risk ratio (RR) 2.73, 95% CI 0.34 to 22.16). Exercise plus usual pharmacological care versus usual pharmacological care alone The addition of exercise to usual pharmacological care may have little to no effect on fatigue, functional capacity, and disease activity (low-certainty evidence). We are uncertain whether the addition of exercise improves pain (very low-certainty evidence), or results in fewer or more withdrawals (very low-certainty evidence). Serious adverse events and quality of life were not reported. Exercise plus usual care versus another non-pharmacological intervention such as receiving information about the disease or relaxation therapy Compared with education or relaxation therapy, exercise may reduce fatigue slightly (low-certainty evidence), may improve functional capacity (low-certainty evidence), probably results in little to no difference in disease activity (moderate-certainty evidence), and may result in little to no difference in pain (low-certainty evidence). We are uncertain whether exercise results in fewer or more withdrawals (very low-certainty evidence). Quality of life and serious adverse events were not reported.
Due to low- to very low-certainty evidence, we are not confident on the benefits of exercise on fatigue, functional capacity, disease activity, and pain, compared with placebo, usual care, or advice and relaxation therapy. Harms data were not well reported.