Clinical Question: Are alpha blockers efficacious in patients with ureteric stones?
Background: A multicenter, randomized controlled trial by Pickard and colleagues demonstrated an alpha blocker to be no more efficacious than placebo as medical expulsive therapy. There are no systematic reviews that include this recent study.
Study Design: Systematic review & meta-analysis.
Setting: Randomized controlled trials (RCTs); most conducted in Europe and Asia.
Synopsis: Fifty-five unique RCTs (5,990 subjects) examining alpha blockers as the main treatment of ureteric stones versus placebo or control were included regardless of language and publication status.
Treatment with alpha blockers resulted in a 49% greater likelihood of stone passage (RR, 1.49; CI, 1.39-1.61) with a number needed to treat of four. A priori subgroup analysis revealed treatment was only beneficial in patients with larger stones (5mm or greater) independent of stone location or type of alpha blocker.
Secondary outcomes included reduced time to stone passage, fewer episodes of pain, decreased risk of surgical intervention, and lower risk of hospital admission with alpha blocker treatment without an increase in serious adverse events.
The meta-analysis was limited by the overall lack of methodological rigor of and clinical heterogeneity between the pooled studies.
Bottom Line: Based on available evidence, it is reasonable to utilize an alpha blocker as medical expulsive therapy in patients with larger ureteric stones.
Citations: Hollingsworth JM, Canales BK, Rogers MA, et al. Alpha blockers for treatment of ureteric stones: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2016;355:i6112.
Dr. Ecker is the assistant director of education, Division of Hospital Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora.