Background: Leg ulcers affect up to 1 per cent of people at some time in their life. Management includes care of the ulcer using dressings and treatment of underlying medical problems such as malnutrition, lack of minerals, vitamins, poor blood supply or infection.
Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of oral zinc in healing arterial or venous leg ulcers.
Search strategy: Searches of 19 databases, hand searching of journals and conference proceedings from 1948 onwards, and examination of bibliographies. The company manufacturing zinc sulphate tablets was asked for references to relevant trials.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials comparing oral zinc sulphate with placebo or no treatment in patients with arterial or venous leg ulcers. There was no restriction on date or language. The main outcome measure used was complete healing of the ulcers. Trials were eligible for inclusion if they measured ulcer healing objectively, by time to complete healing, proportion of ulcers healed during the study, or healing rates of ulcers.
Data collection and analysis: All data extraction and assessment of trial quality were done by both authors independently.
Main results: There were six eligible trials. All are small and serum zinc was measured at baseline or during the trial in 4 trials. Overall there is no evidence of a beneficial effect of treatment with zinc sulphate on the number of ulcers healed at the end of the trials. There is some evidence that oral zinc might have a beneficial effect on healing of venous ulcers in people with a 'low' serum zinc level at baseline.
Reviewer's conclusions: Overall, oral zinc sulphate does not appear to aid healing of leg ulcers, although it might be beneficial in those with venous leg ulcers and low serum zinc. Further research is needed to ascertain the serum zinc concentration below which treatment with zinc might be beneficial, and the dose required. [This abstract was prepared centrally]