Dressings and topical agents for treating pressure ulcers

Maggie Westby, Joanne Dumville, Marta O Soares, Nikki Stubbs, Gill Norman

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Background Pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores, decubitus ulcers and pressure injuries, are localised areas of injury to the skin or the underlying tissue, or both. Dressings are widely used to treat pressure ulcers and promote healing, and there are many options to choose from including alginate, hydrocolloid and protease-modulating dressings. Topical agents have also been used as alternatives to dressings in order to promote healing. A clear and current overview of all the evidence is required to facilitate decision-making regarding the use of dressings or topical agents for the treatment of pressure ulcers. Such a review would ideally help people with pressure ulcers and health professionals assess the best treatment options. This review is a network meta-analysis (NMA) which assesses the probability of complete ulcer healing associated with alternative dressings and topical agents. Objectives To assess the effects of dressings and topical agents for healing pressure ulcers in any care setting. We aimed to examine this evidence base as a whole, determining probabilities that each treatment is the best, with full assessment of uncertainty and evidence quality. Search methods In July 2016 we searched the Cochrane Wounds Specialised Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations); Ovid Embase and EBSCO CINAHL Plus. We also searched clinical trials registries for ongoing and unpublished studies, and scanned reference lists of relevant included studies as well as reviews, meta-analyses, guidelines and health technology reports to identify additional studies. There were no restrictions with respect to language, date of publication or study setting. Selection criteria Published or unpublished randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing the effects of at least one of the following interventions with any other intervention in the treatment of pressure ulcers (Stage 2 or above): any dressing, or any topical agent applied directly to an open pressure ulcer and left in situ. We excluded from this review dressings attached to external devices such as negative pressure wound therapies, skin grafts, growth factor treatments, platelet gels and larval therapy. Data collection and analysis Two review authors independently performed study selection, risk of bias assessment and data extraction. We conducted network meta-analysis using frequentist mega-regression methods for the efficacy outcome, probability of complete healing. We modelled the relative effectiveness of any two treatments as a function of each treatment relative to the reference treatment (saline gauze). We assumed that treatment effects were similar within dressings classes (e.g. hydrocolloid, foam). We present estimates of effect with their 95% confidence intervals for individual treatments compared with every other, and we report ranking probabilities for each intervention (probability of being the best, second best, etc treatment). We assessed the certainty (quality) of the body of evidence using GRADE for each network comparison and for the network as whole. Main results We included 51 studies (2947 participants) in this review and carried out NMA in a network of linked interventions for the sole outcome of probability of complete healing. The network included 21 different interventions (13 dressings, 6 topical agents and 2 supplementary linking interventions) and was informed by 39 studies in 2127 participants, of whom 783 had completely healed wounds. We judged the network to be sparse: overall, there were relatively few participants, with few events, both for the number of interventions and the number of mixed treatment contrasts; most studies were small or very small. The consequence of this sparseness is high imprecision in the evidence, and this, coupled with the (mainly) high risk of bias in the studies informing the network, means that we judged the vast majority of the evidence to be of low or very low certainty. We have no confidence in the findings regarding the rank order of interventions in this review (very low-certainty evidence), but we report here a summary of results for some comparisons of interventions compared with saline gauze. We present here only the findings from evidence which we did not consider to be very low certainty, but these reported results should still be interpreted in the context of the very low certainty of the network as a whole. It is not clear whether regimens involving protease-modulating dressings increase the probability of pressure ulcer healing compared with saline gauze (risk ratio (RR) 1.65, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.92 to 2.94) (moderate-certainty evidence: low risk of bias, downgraded for imprecision). This risk ratio of 1.65 corresponds to an absolute difference of 102 more people healed with protease modulating dressings per 1000 people treated than with saline gauze alone (95% CI 13 fewer to 302 more). It is unclear whether the following interventions increase the probability of healing compared with saline gauze (low-certainty evidence): collagenase ointment (RR 2.12, 95% CI 1.06 to 4.22); foam dressings (RR 1.52, 95% CI 1.03 to 2.26); basic wound contact dressings (RR 1.30, 95% CI 0.65 to 2.58) and polyvinylpyrrolidone plus zinc oxide (RR 1.31, 95% CI 0.37 to 4.62); the latter two interventions both had confidence intervals consistent with both a clinically important benefit and a clinically important harm, and the former two interventions each had high risk of bias as well as imprecision. Authors' conclusions A network meta-analysis (NMA) of data from 39 studies (evaluating 21 dressings and topical agents for pressure ulcers) is sparse and the evidence is of low or very low certainty (due mainly to risk of bias and imprecision). Consequently we are unable to determine which dressings or topical agents are the most likely to heal pressure ulcers, and it is generally unclear whether the treatments examined are more effective than saline gauze. More research is needed to determine whether particular dressings or topical agents improve the probability of healing of pressure ulcers. The NMA is uninformative regarding which interventions might best be included in a large trial, and it may be that research is directed towards prevention, leaving clinicians to decide which treatment to use on the basis of wound symptoms, clinical experience, patient preference and cost.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Early online date22 Jun 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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