Clinical Evidence Concise

A Publication of BMJ Publishing Group

Venous Leg Ulcers


Am Fam Physician. 2005 Apr 1;71(7):1365-1366.

What are the effects of treatments?


Compression Bandages and Stockings

Two systematic reviews and one subsequent randomized controlled trial (RCT) found that compression bandages or stockings healed more venous leg ulcers than no compression. We found insufficient evidence from the reviews and two subsequent RCTs to compare multilayer elastomeric versus nonelastomeric high-compression bandages, or multilayer elastomeric high-compression versus short-stretch bandages. One systematic review found that multilayer compression increased ulcer healing compared with single-layer bandages. One systematic review and two subsequent RCTs found little evidence that any particular multilayer highcompression regimen was more effective than any other. We found insufficient evidence from one small RCT about the effects of compression bandages compared with intermittent pneumatic compression.

Oral Pentoxifylline

One systematic review and two subsequent RCTs found that oral pentoxifylline increases the proportion of ulcers healed over six to 12 months compared with placebo.


Cultured Allogenic Bilayer Skin Replacement

One RCT found that cultured allogenic bilayer skin replacement increased the proportion of ulcers healed after six months compared with a nonadherent dressing.

Oral Flavonoids

Two RCTs found that adding flavonoids to compression increased the proportion of ulcers healed after two to six months compared with compression alone.

Oral Sulodexide

Two RCTs found that sulodexide plus compression increased the proportion of ulcers healed after two to three months of treatment compared with compression alone.

Peri-Ulcer Injection of Granulocyte-Macrophage Colony Stimulating Factor

One RCT found that periulcer injection of granulocytemacrophage colony stimulating factor increased the proportion of ulcers healed after 13 weeks of treatment compared with placebo.

Systemic Mesoglycan

One RCT found that systemic mesoglycan plus compression increased the proportion of ulcers healed after 24 weeks of treatment compared with compression alone.


Debriding Agents; Foam, Film, or Alginate (Semi-Occlusive) Dressings Versus Simple Dressings in the Presence of Compression; Intermittent Pneumatic Compression; Laser (Low Level); Oral Aspirin; Oral Rutosides; Oral Thromboxane Alpha2 Antagonists; Oral Zinc; Skin Grafting; Topical Antimicrobial Agents; Topical Calcitonin Gene-Related Peptide Plus Vasoactive Intestinal Polypeptide; Topical Recombinant Keratinocyte Growth Factor 2; Topical Mesoglycan; Topical Negative Pressure; Ultrasound; Vein Surgery

RCTs provided insufficient evidence about the effects of these interventions on ulcer healing.


Hydrocolloid Dressings (in the Presence of Compression, No Significant Difference in Healing Compared with Simple Low-Adherent Dressings)

One systematic review found that, in the presence of compression, hydrocolloid dressings did not heal more venous leg ulcers than simple, low adherent dressings.

Topically Applied Autologous Platelet Lysate

One RCT found no significant difference in the proportion of people with healed ulcers after nine months between topically applied autologous platelet lysate and placebo.

What are the effects of interventions to prevent recurrence?


Compression Stockings

RCTs found that compression reduced recurrence at six months compared with no compression, but non-compliance with compression is a risk factor for recurrence.


Vein Surgery

Two RCTs provided limited evidence that vein surgery with or without compression reduced recurrence compared with compression alone. Vein surgery has the usual risks of surgery and anesthesia.


Oral Rutoside; Oral Stanozolol

RCTs provided insufficient evidence about the effects of these interventions on ulcer recurrence.


Definitions of leg ulcers vary, but the following is used widely: loss of skin on the leg or foot that takes more than six weeks to heal. Some definitions exclude ulcers confined to the foot, whereas others include ulcers on the whole of the lower limb. This review deals with ulcers of venous origin in people without concurrent diabetes mellitus, arterial insufficiency, or rheumatoid arthritis.


One and one half to three of every 1,000 people have active leg ulcers. Prevalence increases with age to about 20 instances per 1,000 people older than 80 years.1

Etiology/Risk Factors

Leg ulceration is strongly associated with venous disease. However, about one fifth of people with leg ulceration have arterial disease, alone or in combination with venous problems, which may require subspecialist referral.1 Venous ulcers (also known as varicose or stasis ulcers) are caused by venous reflux or obstruction, both of which lead to poor venous return and venous hypertension.


People with leg ulcers have a poorer quality of life than age-matched controls because of pain, odor, and reduced mobility.2 In the United Kingdom, audits have found wide variation in the types of care (i.e., hospital inpatient care, hospital clinics, outpatient clinics, home visits), treatments used (i.e., topical agents, dressings, bandages, stockings), healing rates, and recurrence rates (26 to 69 percent in one year).3,4

SEARCH DATE: November 2003

editor’s note: Sulodexide, mesoglycan, thromboxane alpha2 antagonists, calcitonin gene-related peptide, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide, recombinant keratinocyte growth factor 2, hydrocolloid dressings, and autologous platelet lysate are not available in the United States. The U. S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate rutosides.

Adapted with permission from Nelson EA, Cullum N, Jones J. Venous leg ulcers. Clin Evid Concise 2004;12:529–31.

Andrea Nelson and Nicky Cullum are applicants on a randomized controlled trial of compression bandages for which Beirsdorf UK Ltd. provided RCT-related education. All three authors have published systematic reviews included in this review.



show all references

1. Callam MJ, Ruckley CV, Harper DR, et al. Chronic ulceration of the leg: extent of the problem and provision of care. BMJ. 1985;290:1855–6....

2. Roe B, Cullum N, Hamer C. Patients’ perceptions of chronic leg ulceration. In: Cullum N, Roe B, eds. Leg ulcers: nursing management. Harrow, England: Scutari, 1995:125–34.

3. Roe B, Cullum N. The management of leg ulcers: current nursing practice. In: Cullum N, Roe B, eds. Leg ulcers: nursing management. Harrow, England: Scutari, 1995:113–24.

4. Vowden KR, Barker A, Vowden P. Leg ulcer management in a nurse-led, hospital-based clinic. J Wound Care. 1997;6:233–6.

This is one in a series of chapters excerpted from Clinical Evidence Concise, published by the BMJ Publishing Group, Tavistock Square, London, United Kingdom.



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