Antibiotics are frequently prescribed in children. They alter the microbial balance within the gastrointestinal tract, commonly resulting in antibiotic-associated diarrhea (AAD). Probiotics may prevent AAD via restoration of the gut microflora.
The primary objectives were to assess the efficacy and safety of probiotics (any specified strain or dose) used for the prevention of AAD in children.
MEDLINE, EMBASE, CENTRAL, CINAHL, AMED, and the Web of Science (inception to November 2014) were searched along with specialized registers including the Cochrane IBD/FBD review group, CISCOM (Centralized Information Service for Complementary Medicine), NHS Evidence, the International Bibliographic Information on Dietary Supplements as well as trial registries. Letters were sent to authors of included trials, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies, and experts in the field requesting additional information on ongoing or unpublished trials. Conference proceedings, dissertation abstracts, and reference lists from included and relevant articles were also searched.
Randomized, parallel, controlled trials in children (0 to 18 years) receiving antibiotics, that compare probiotics to placebo, active alternative prophylaxis, or no treatment and measure the incidence of diarrhea secondary to antibiotic use were considered for inclusion.
Study selection, data extraction as well as methodological quality assessment using the risk of bias instrument was conducted independently and in duplicate by two authors. Dichotomous data (incidence of diarrhea, adverse events) were combined using a pooled risk ratio (RR) or risk difference (RD), and continuous data (mean duration of diarrhea, mean daily stool frequency) as mean difference (MD), along with their corresponding 95% confidence interval (95% CI). For overall pooled results on the incidence of diarrhea, sensitivity analyses included available case versus extreme-plausible analyses and random- versus fixed-effect models. To explore possible explanations for heterogeneity, a priori subgroup analysis were conducted on probiotic strain, dose, definition of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, as well as risk of bias. We also conducted post hoc subgroup analyses by patient diagnosis, single versus multi-strain, industry sponsorship, and inpatient status. The overall quality of the evidence supporting the outcomes was evaluated using the GRADE criteria.
Twenty-three studies (3938 participants) met the inclusion criteria. Trials included treatment with either Bacillus spp., Bifidobacterium spp., Clostridium butyricum, Lactobacilli spp., Lactococcus spp., Leuconostoc cremoris, Saccharomyces spp., orStreptococcus spp., alone or in combination. Eleven studies used a single strain probiotic, four combined two probiotic strains, three combined three probiotic strains, one combined four probiotic strains, two combined seven probiotic strains, one included ten probiotic strains, and one study included two probiotic arms that used three and two strains respectively. The risk of bias was determined to be high or unclear in 13 studies and low in 10 studies. Available case (patients who did not complete the studies were not included in the analysis) results from 22/23 trials reporting on the incidence of diarrhea show a large, precise benefit from probiotics compared to active, placebo or no treatment control. The incidence of AAD in the probiotic group was 8% (163/1992) compared to 19% (364/1906) in the control group (RR 0.46, 95% CI 0.35 to 0.61; I(2) = 55%, 3898 participants). A GRADE analysis indicated that the overall quality of the evidence for this outcome was moderate. This benefit remained statistically significant in an extreme plausible (60% of children loss to follow-up in probiotic group and 20% loss to follow-up in the control group had diarrhea) sensitivity analysis, where the incidence of AAD in the probiotic group was 14% (330/2294) compared to 19% (426/2235) in the control group (RR 0.69; 95% CI 0.54 to 0.89; I(2) = 63%, 4529 participants). None of the 16 trials (n = 2455) that reported on adverse events documented any serious adverse events attributable to probiotics. Meta-analysis excluded all but an extremely small non-significant difference in adverse events between treatment and control (RD 0.00; 95% CI -0.01 to 0.01). The majority of adverse events were in placebo, standard care or no treatment group. Adverse events reported in the studies include rash, nausea, gas, flatulence, abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, vomiting, increased phlegm, chest pain, constipation, taste disturbance, and low appetite.
Moderate quality evidence suggests a protective effect of probiotics in preventing AAD. Our pooled estimate suggests a precise (RR 0.46; 95% CI 0.35 to 0.61) probiotic effect with a NNT of 10. Among the various probiotics evaluated, Lactobacillus rhamnosus or Saccharomyces boulardii at 5 to 40 billion colony forming units/day may be appropriate given the modest NNT and the likelihood that adverse events are very rare. It is premature to draw conclusions about the efficacy and safety of other probiotic agents for pediatric AAD. Although no serious adverse events were observed among otherwise healthy children, serious adverse events have been observed in severely debilitated or immuno-compromised children with underlying risk factors including central venous catheter use and disorders associated with bacterial/fungal translocation. Until further research has been conducted, probiotic use should be avoided in pediatric populations at risk for adverse events. Future trials would benefit from a standard and valid outcomes to measure AAD.