The effect of oxandrolone on the healing of chronic pressure ulcers in persons with spinal cord injury: a randomized trial

Ann Intern Med. 2013 May 21;158(10):718-26. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-158-10-201305210-00006.


Background: Anabolic steroids have been reported to improve wound healing.

Objective: To determine whether oxandrolone increases the percentage of target pressure ulcers (TPUs) that heal compared with placebo and whether healed ulcers remain closed 8 weeks after treatment.

Design: Parallel-group, placebo-controlled, randomized trial conducted from 1 August 2005 to 30 November 2008. Patients, clinical care providers, study personnel, and statisticians were blinded to treatment assignment. ( NCT00101361).

Setting: 16 inpatient spinal cord injury (SCI) services at Veterans Affairs medical centers.

Patients: 1900 prescreened, 779 screened, and 212 randomly assigned inpatients with SCI and stage III or IV TPUs.

Intervention: Oxandrolone, 20 mg/d (n = 108), or placebo (n = 104) until the TPU healed or 24 weeks.

Measurements: The primary outcome was healed TPUs. The secondary outcome was the percentage of TPUs that remained healed at 8-week follow-up.

Results: 24.1% (95% CI, 16.0% to 32.1%) of TPUs in oxandrolone recipients and 29.8% (CI, 21.0% to 38.6%) in placebo recipients healed (difference, -5.7 percentage points [CI, -17.5 to 6.8 percentage points]; P = 0.40). At 8-week follow-up, 16.7% (CI, 9.6% to 23.7%) of oxandrolone recipients and 15.4% (CI, 8.5% to 22.3%) of placebo recipients retained a healed TPU (difference, 1.3 percentage points [CI, -8.8 to 11.2 percentage points]; P = 0.70). No serious adverse events were related to oxandrolone. Liver enzyme levels were elevated in 32.4% (CI, 23.6% to 41.2%) of oxandrolone recipients and 2.9% (CI, 0.0% to 6.1%) of placebo recipients (P < 0.001).

Limitations: Selection of severe wounds may have reduced treatment response. Approximately one third of patients did not complete the study in the treatment and placebo groups. The study was terminated after a futility analysis showed a low probability of detecting a significant difference between the groups.

Conclusion: Oxandrolone showed no benefit over placebo for improving healing or the percentage of TPUs that remained closed after 8 weeks of treatment.

Primary funding source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Anabolic Agents / adverse effects
  • Anabolic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxandrolone / adverse effects
  • Oxandrolone / therapeutic use*
  • Prealbumin / metabolism
  • Pressure Ulcer / complications
  • Pressure Ulcer / drug therapy*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wound Healing / drug effects*


  • Anabolic Agents
  • Prealbumin
  • Oxandrolone

Associated data