Venous ulcers (also known as varicose or venous stasis ulcers) are a chronic, recurring and debilitating condition that affects up to 1% of the population. Best practice documents and expert opinion suggests that the removal of devitalised tissue from venous ulcers (debridement) by any one of six methods helps to promote healing. However, to date there has been no review of the evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to support this.
To determine the effects of different debriding methods or debridement versus no debridement, on the rate of debridement and wound healing in venous leg ulcers.
In February 2015 we searched: The Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register; The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations); Ovid EMBASE and EBSCO CINAHL. There were no restrictions with respect to language, date of publication or study setting. In addition we handsearched conference proceedings, journals not cited in MEDLINE, and the bibliographies of all retrieved publications to identify potential studies. We made contact with the pharmaceutical industry to enquire about any completed studies.
We included RCTs, either published or unpublished, which compared two methods of debridement or compared debridement with no debridement. We presented study results in a narrative form, as meta-analysis was not possible.
Independently, two review authors completed all study selection, data extraction and assessment of trial quality; resolution of disagreements was completed by a third review author.
We identified 10 RCTs involving 715 participants. Eight RCTs evaluated autolytic debridement and included the following agents or dressings: biocellulose wound dressing (BWD), non-adherent dressing, honey gel, hydrogel (gel formula), hydrofibre dressing, hydrocolloid dressings, dextranomer beads, Edinburgh University Solution of Lime (EUSOL) and paraffin gauze. Two RCTs evaluated enzymatic preparations and one evaluated biosurgical debridement. No RCTs evaluated surgical, sharp or mechanical methods of debridement, or debridement versus no debridement. Most trials were at a high risk of bias.Three RCTs assessed the number of wounds completely debrided. All three of these trials compared two different methods of autolytic debridement (234 participants), with two studies reporting statistically significant results: one study (100 participants) reported that 40/50 (80%) ulcers treated with dextranomer beads and 7/50 (14%) treated with EUSOL achieved complete debridement (RR 5.71, 95% CI 2.84 to 11.52); while the other trial (86 participants) reported the number of ulcers completely debrided as 31/46 (76%) for hydrogel versus 18/40 (45%) for paraffin gauze (RR 0.67, 95% CI 0.45 to 0.99). One study (48 participants) reported that by 12 weeks, 15/18 (84%) ulcers treated with BWD had achieved a 75% to 100% clean, granulating wound bed versus 4/15 (26%) treated with non-adherent petrolatum emulsion-impregnated gauze.Four trials assessed the mean time to achieve debridement: one (86 participants) compared two autolytic debridement methods, two compared autolytic methods with enzymatic debridement (71 participants), and the last (12 participants) compared autolytic with biosurgical debridement; none of the results achieved statistical significance.Two trials that assessed autolytic debridement methods reported the number of wounds healed at 12 weeks. One trial (108 participants) reported that 24/54 (44%) ulcers treated with honey healed versus 18/54 (33%) treated with hydrogel (RR (adjusted for baseline wound diameter) 1.38, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.88; P value 0.037). The second trial (48 participants) reported that 7/25 (28%) ulcers treated with BWD healed versus 7/23 (30%) treated with non-adherent dressing.Reduction in wound size was assessed in five trials (444 participants) in which two autolytic methods were compared. Results were statistically significant in one three-armed trial (153 participants) when cadexomer iodine was compared to paraffin gauze (mean difference 24.9 cm², 95% CI 7.27 to 42.53, P value 0.006) and hydrocolloid compared to paraffin gauze (mean difference 23.8 cm², 95% CI 5.48 to 42.12, P value 0.01). A second trial that assessed reduction in wound size based its results on median differences and, at four weeks, produced a statistically significantly result that favoured honey over hydrogel (P value < 0.001). The other three trials reported no statistically significant results for reduction in wound size, although one trial reported that the mean percentage reduction in wound area was greater at six and 12 weeks for BWD versus a non-adherent dressing (44% versus 24% week 6; 74% versus 54% week 12).Pain was assessed in six trials (544 participants) that compared two autolytic debridement methods, but the results were not statistically significant. No serious adverse events were reported in any trial.
There is limited evidence to suggest that actively debriding a venous leg ulcer has a clinically significant impact on healing. The overall small number of participants, low number of studies and lack of meta-analysis in this review precludes any strong conclusions of benefit. Comparisons of different autolytic agents (hydrogel versus paraffin gauze; Dextranomer beads versus EUSOL and BWD versus non-adherent dressings) and Larvae versus hydrogel all showed statistically significant results for numbers of wounds debrided. Larger trials with follow up to healing are required.