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Efficacy and safety of pharmacotherapy for refractory or unexplained chronic cough: a systematic review and network meta-analysis

Zheng, Ziwen; Huang, Junfeng; Xiang, Ziyuan; Wu, Tong; Lan, Xiaoqing; Xie, Shuojia; Lin, Zikai; Tang, Kailun; Morice, Alyn; Li, Shiyue; Song, Woo Jung; Chen, Ruchong


Ziwen Zheng

Junfeng Huang

Ziyuan Xiang

Tong Wu

Xiaoqing Lan

Shuojia Xie

Zikai Lin

Kailun Tang

Shiyue Li

Woo Jung Song

Ruchong Chen


Background: Refractory chronic cough (RCC) has a significant impact on patient's health-related quality of life and represents a challenge in clinical management. However, the optimal treatment for RCC remains controversial. This study aimed to investigate and compare the efficacy and safety of the current pharmacological therapeutic options for RCC. Methods: A systematic review was performed by searching PubMed, Web of Science, Embase, and Ovid databases from January 1, 2008 to March 1, 2023. All randomised control trials (RCTs) reporting outcomes of efficacy or/and safety were included in the Bayesian network meta-analysis. Here, we compared the effects on Leicester Cough Questionnaire (LCQ), Visual Analogue Scale (VAS), and objective cough frequency of patients with RCC. Besides, we also compared the incidence of adverse events (AEs) for analysis of safety. PROSPERO registration: CRD42022345940. Findings: 19 eligible RCTs included 3326 patients and 7 medication categories: P2X3 antagonist, GABA modulator, Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) modulator, NK-1 agonist, opioid analgesic, macrolide, and sodium cromoglicate. Compared with placebo, mean difference (MD) of LCQ and 24 h cough frequency for P2X3 antagonist relief were 1.637 (95% CI: 0.887–2.387) and −11.042 (P = 0.035). Compared with placebo, effect sizes (MD for LCQ and cough severity VAS) for GABA modulator were 1.347 (P = 0.003) and −7.843 (P = 0.003). In the network meta-analysis, gefapixant is the most effective treatment for patients with RCC (The Surface Under the Cumulative Ranking Curves (SUCRA) is 0.711 in LCQ, 0.983 in 24 h cough frequency, and 0.786 in cough severity VAS). Lesogaberan had better efficacy than placebo (SUCRA: 0.632 vs. 0.472) in 24 h cough frequency. Eliapixant and lesogaberan had better efficacy than placebo in cough severity VAS. However, TRP modulator had worse efficacy than placebo. In the meta-analysis of AEs, the present study found P2X3 antagonist had a significant correlation to AEs (RR: 1.129, 95% CI: 1.012–1.259), especially taste-related AEs (RR: 6.216, P < 0.05). Interpretation: In this network meta-analysis, P2X3 antagonist showing advantages in terms of efficacy is currently the most promising medication for treatment of RCC. GABA modulator also showed potential efficacy for RCC but with AEs of the central system. Nevertheless, the role of TRP modulator needed to be revisited. Further research is needed to determine the potential beneficiary population for optimizing the pharmacological management of chronic cough. Funding: National Natural Science Foundation of China ( 81870079), Guangdong Science and Technology Project ( 2021A050520012), Incubation Program of National Science Foundation for Distinguished Young Scholars ( GMU2020-207).


Zheng, Z., Huang, J., Xiang, Z., Wu, T., Lan, X., Xie, S., …Chen, R. (2023). Efficacy and safety of pharmacotherapy for refractory or unexplained chronic cough: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. EClinicalMedicine, 62, Article 102100.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 28, 2023
Online Publication Date Jul 20, 2023
Publication Date Aug 1, 2023
Deposit Date Aug 15, 2023
Publicly Available Date Aug 16, 2023
Journal eClinicalMedicine
Electronic ISSN 2589-5370
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 62
Article Number 102100
Keywords Network meta-analysis; Refractory chronic cough; Pharmacotherapy; Efficacy
Public URL


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