We identified 11 RCTs (10 double-blind and 1 single-blind) with a total 762 participants. The mean age of participants ranged from 62 to 76 years. Trials were single- or two-centre trials conducted in Iran, New Zealand, Nepal, Turkey, the UK, Tunisia and the USA between 2004 and 2018. We judged studies to be at low or unclear risk of bias for most of the domains. Three studies were at high risk for blinding and other biases.
Intravenous magnesium sulfate versus placebo
Seven studies (24 to 77 participants) were included. Fewer people may require hospital admission with magnesium infusion compared to placebo (odds ratio (OR) 0.45, 95% CI 0.23 to 0.88; number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome (NNTB) = 7; 3 studies, 170 participants; low-certainty evidence). Intravenous magnesium may result in little to no difference in the requirement for non-invasive ventilation (OR 0.74, 95% CI 0.31 to 1.75; very low-certainty evidence). There were no reported cases of endotracheal intubation (2 studies, 107 participants) or serious adverse events (1 study, 77 participants) in either group. Included studies did not report intensive care unit (ICU) admission or deaths. Magnesium infusion may reduce the length of hospital stay by a mean difference (MD) of 2.7 days (95% CI 4.73 days to 0.66 days; 2 studies, 54 participants; low-certainty evidence) and improve dyspnoea score by a standardised mean difference of -1.40 (95% CI -1.83 to -0.96; 2 studies, 101 participants; low-certainty evidence). We were uncertain about the effect of magnesium infusion on improving lung function or oxygen saturation. For all adverse events, the Peto OR was 0.14 (95% CI 0.02 to 1.00; 102 participants); however, the event rate was too low to reach a robust conclusion.
Nebulised magnesium sulfate versus placebo
Three studies (20 to 172 participants) were included. Magnesium inhalation may have little to no impact on hospital admission (OR 0.77, 95% CI 0.21 to 2.82; very low-certainty evidence) or need for ventilatory support (NIV or mechanical ventilation) (OR 0.33, 95% CI 0.01 to 8.20; very low-certainty evidence). It may result in fewer ICU admissions compared to placebo (OR 0.39, 95% CI 0.15 to 1.00; very low-certainty evidence) and improvement in dyspnoea (MD -14.37, 95% CI -26.00 to -2.74; 1 study, 20 participants; very low-certainty evidence). There were no serious adverse events reported in either group. There was one reported death in the placebo arm in one trial, but the number of participants was too small for a conclusion. There was limited evidence about the effect of magnesium inhalation on length of hospital stay, lung function outcomes or oxygen saturation. Included studies did not report adverse events.
Magnesium sulfate versus ipratropium bromide
A single study with 124 participants assessed nebulised magnesium sulfate plus intravenous magnesium infusion versus nebulised ipratropium plus intravenous normal saline. There was little to no difference between these groups in terms of hospital admission (OR 1.62, 95% CI 0.78 to 3.37), endotracheal intubation (OR 1.69, 95% CI 0.61 to 4.71) and length of hospital stay (MD 1.10 days, 95% CI -0.22 to 2.42), all with very low-certainty evidence. There were no data available for non-invasive ventilation, ICU admission and serious adverse events. Adverse events were not reported.