The quality of subgroup analyses in chronic pain randomized controlled trials: a methodological review
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The quality of subgroup analyses (SGAs) in chronic non-cancer pain trials is uncertain. The purpose of this study was to address this issue. We conducted a comprehensive search in MEDLINE and EMBASE from January 2012 to September 2018 to identify eligible trials. Two pairs of reviewers assessed the quality of the SGAs and the credibility of subgroup claims using the 10 criteria developed by Sun et al. in 2012. The associations between the quality of the SGAs and the studies' characteristics including risk of bias, funding sources, sample size, and the latest impact factor, were assessed using multivariable logistic regression. Our search retrieved 3,401 articles of which 66 were eligible. The total number of SGAs was 177 of which 52 (29.4%) made a subgroup claim. Of these, only 15 (8.5%) were evaluated as being of high quality. Among the 30 SGAs that claimed subgroup effects using an appropriate method of performing interaction tests, the credibility of only 5 were assessed as high. None of the subgroup claims met all the credibility criteria. No significant association was found between the quality of SGAs and the studies' characteristics. The quality of the SGAs performed in chronic pain trials was poor. To enhance the quality of SGAs, scholars should consider the developed criteria when designing and conducting trials, particularly those which need to be specified a priori .