Objective: To review the evidence of effectiveness of dressings applied to venous leg ulcers.
Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis.
Data sources: Hand searches of journals and searches of electronic databases, conference proceedings, and bibliographies up to April 2006; contacts with dressing manufacturers for unpublished studies.
Studies reviewed: All randomised controlled trials that evaluated dressings applied to venous leg ulcers were eligible for inclusion. Data from eligible studies were extracted and summarised independently by two reviewers using a data extraction sheet. Methodological quality was assessed independently by two reviewers.
Results: The search strategy identified 254 studies; 42 of these fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Hydrocolloids were no more effective than simple low adherent dressings used beneath compression (eight trials; relative risk for healing with hydrocolloid 1.02, 95% confidence interval 0.83 to 1.28). For other comparisons, insufficient evidence was available to allow firm conclusions to be drawn. None of the dressing comparisons showed evidence that a particular class of dressing healed more ulcers. Some differences existed between dressings in terms of subjective outcome measures and ulcer healing rates. The results were not affected by the size or quality of trials or the unit of randomisation. Insufficient data were available to allow conclusions to be drawn about the relative cost effectiveness of different dressings.
Conclusions: The type of dressing applied beneath compression was not shown to affect ulcer healing. The results of the meta-analysis showed that applying hydrocolloid dressings beneath compression produced no benefit in terms of ulcer healing compared with applying simple low adherent dressings. No conclusive recommendations can be made as to which type of dressing is most cost effective. Decisions on which dressing to apply should be based on the local costs of dressings and the preferences of the practitioner or patient.