Pressure ulcers, also known as bed sores, pressure sores or decubitus ulcers develop as a result of a localised injury to the skin or underlying tissue, or both. The ulcers usually arise over a bony prominence, and are recognised as a common medical problem affecting people confined to a bed or wheelchair for long periods of time. Anabolic steroids are used as off-label drugs (drugs which are used without regulatory approval) and have been used as adjuvants to usual treatment with dressings, debridement, nutritional supplements, systemic antibiotics and antiseptics, which are considered to be supportive in healing of pressure ulcers. Anabolic steroids are considered because of their ability to stimulate protein synthesis and build muscle mass. Comprehensive evidence is required to facilitate decision making, regarding the benefits and harms of using anabolic steroids.
To assess the effects of anabolic steroids for treating pressure ulcers.
In March 2017 we searched the Cochrane Wounds Specialised Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); Ovid MEDLINE (including 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 We also searched clinical trials registries for ongoing and unpublished studies, and scanned reference lists of relevant included studies as well as reviews, meta-analyses and health technology reports to identify additional studies. There were no restrictions with respect to language, date of publication or study setting.
Published or unpublished randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing the effects of anabolic steroids with alternative treatments or different types of anabolic steroids in the treatment of pressure ulcers.
Two review authors independently carried out study selection, data extraction and risk of bias assessment.
The review contains only one trial with a total of 212 participants, all with spinal cord injury and open pressure ulcers classed as stage III and IV. The participants were mainly male (98.2%, 106/108) with a mean age of 58.4 (standard deviation 10.4) years in the oxandrolone group and were all male (100%, 104/104) with a mean age of 57.3 (standard deviation 11.6) years in the placebo group. This trial compared oxandrolone (20 mg/day, administered orally) with a dose of placebo (an inactive substance consisting of 98% starch and 2% magnesium stearate) and reported data on complete healing of ulcers and adverse events. There was very low-certainty evidence on the relative effect of oxandrolone on complete ulcer healing at the end of a 24-week treatment period (risk ratio RR) 0.81, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.52 to 1.26) (downgraded twice for imprecision due to an extremely wide 95% CI, which spanned both benefit and harm, and once for indirectness, as the participants were mostly male spinal cord injury patients). Thus, we are uncertain whether oxandrolone improves or reduces the complete healing of pressure ulcers, as we assessed the certainty of the evidence as very low.There was low-certainty evidence on the risk of non-serious adverse events reported in participants treated with oxandrolone compared with placebo (RR 3.85, 95% CI 1.12 to 13.26) (downgraded once for imprecision and once for indirectness, as the participants were mostly male spinal cord injury patients). Thus, the treatment with oxandrolone may increase the risk of non-serious adverse events reported in participants.There was very low-certainty evidence on the risk of serious adverse events reported in participants treated with oxandrolone compared with placebo (RR 0.54, 95% CI 0.25 to 1.17) (downgraded twice for imprecision due to an extremely wide 95% CI, which spanned both benefit and harm, and once for indirectness, as the participants were mostly male spinal cord injury patients). Of the five serious adverse events reported in the oxandrolone-treated group, none were classed by the trial teams as being related to treatment. We are uncertain whether oxandrolone increases or decreases the risk of serious adverse events as we assessed the certainty of the evidence as very low.Secondary outcomes such as pain, length of hospital stay, change in wound size or wound surface area, incidence of different type of infection, cost of treatment and quality of life were not reported in the included trial.Overall the evidence in this study was of very low quality (downgraded for imprecision and indirectness). This trial stopped early when the futility analysis (interim analysis) in the opinion of the study authors showed that oxandrolone had no benefit over placebo for improving ulcer healing.
There is no high quality evidence to support the use of anabolic steroids in treating pressure ulcers.Further well-designed, multicenter trials, at low risk of bias, are necessary to assess the effect of anabolic steroids on treating pressure ulcers, but careful consideration of the current trial and its early termination are required when planning future research.