JOURNAL ARTICLE
REVIEW

Foam dressings for treating pressure ulcers

Rachel M Walker, Brigid M Gillespie, Lukman Thalib, Niall S Higgins, Jennifer A Whitty
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017 October 12, 10: CD011332
29025198

BACKGROUND: Pressure ulcers, also known as pressure injuries and bed sores, are localised areas of injury to the skin or underlying tissues, or both. Dressings made from a variety of materials, including foam, are used to treat pressure ulcers. An evidence-based overview of dressings for pressure ulcers is needed to enable informed decision-making on dressing use. This review is part of a suite of Cochrane Reviews investigating the use of dressings in the treatment of pressure ulcers. Each review will focus on a particular dressing type.

OBJECTIVES: To assess the clinical and cost effectiveness of foam wound dressings for healing pressure ulcers in people with an existing pressure ulcer in any care setting.

SEARCH METHODS: In February 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; EBSCO CINAHL Plus and the NHS Economic Evaluation Database (NHS EED). We also searched clinical trials registries for ongoing and unpublished studies, and scanned reference lists of relevant included studies as well as reviews, meta-analyses and health technology reports to identify additional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.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Published or unpublished randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and cluster-RCTs, that compared the clinical and cost effectiveness of foam wound dressings for healing pressure ulcers (Category/Stage II or above).

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently performed study selection, risk of bias and data extraction. A third reviewer resolved discrepancies between the review authors.

MAIN RESULTS: We included nine trials with a total of 483 participants, all of whom were adults (59 years or older) with an existing pressure ulcer Category/Stage II or above. All trials had two arms, which compared foam dressings with other dressings for treating pressure ulcers.The certainty of evidence ranged from low to very low due to various combinations of selection, performance, attrition, detection and reporting bias, and imprecision due to small sample sizes and wide confidence intervals. We had very little confidence in the estimate of effect of included studies. Where a foam dressing was compared with another foam dressing, we established that the true effect was likely to be substantially less than the study's estimated effect.We present data for four comparisons.One trial compared a silicone foam dressing with another (hydropolymer) foam dressing (38 participants), with an eight-week (short-term) follow-up. It was uncertain whether alternate types of foam dressing affected the incidence of healed pressure ulcers (RR 0.89, 95% CI 0.45 to 1.75) or adverse events (RR 0.37, 95% CI 0.04 to 3.25), as the certainty of evidence was very low, downgraded for serious limitations in study design and very serious imprecision.Four trials with a median sample size of 20 participants (230 participants), compared foam dressings with hydrocolloid dressings for eight weeks or less (short-term). It was uncertain whether foam dressings affected the probability of healing in comparison to hydrocolloid dressings over a short follow-up period in three trials (RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.54 to 1.34), very low-certainty evidence, downgraded for very serious study limitations and serious imprecision. It was uncertain if there was a difference in risk of adverse events between groups (RR 0.88, 95% CI 0.37 to 2.11), very low-certainty evidence, downgraded for serious study limitations and very serious imprecision. Reduction in ulcer size, patient satisfaction/acceptability, pain and cost effectiveness data were also reported but we assessed the evidence as being of very low certainty.One trial (34 participants), compared foam and hydrogel dressings over an eight-week (short-term) follow-up. It was uncertain if the foam dressing affected the probability of healing (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.78 to 1.28), time to complete healing (MD 5.67 days 95% CI -4.03 to 15.37), adverse events (RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.01 to 7.65) or reduction in ulcer size (MD 0.30 cm2 per day, 95% CI -0.15 to 0.75), as the certainty of the evidence was very low, downgraded for serious study limitations and very serious imprecision.The remaining three trials (181 participants) compared foam with basic wound contact dressings. Follow-up times ranged from short-term (8 weeks or less) to medium-term (8 to 24 weeks). It was uncertain whether foam dressings affected the probability of healing compared with basic wound contact dressings, in the short term (RR 1.33, 95% CI 0.62 to 2.88) or medium term (RR 1.17, 95% CI 0.79 to 1.72), or affected time to complete healing in the medium term (MD -35.80 days, 95% CI -56.77 to -14.83), or adverse events in the medium term (RR 0.58, 95% CI 0.33 to 1.05). This was due to the very low-certainty evidence, downgraded for serious to very serious study limitations and imprecision. Reduction in ulcer size, patient satisfaction/acceptability, pain and cost effectiveness data were also reported but again, we assessed the evidence as being of very low certainty.None of the included trials reported quality of life or pressure ulcer recurrence.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: It is uncertain whether foam dressings are more clinically effective, more acceptable to users, or more cost effective compared to alternative dressings in treating pressure ulcers. It was difficult to make accurate comparisons between foam dressings and other dressings due to the lack of data on reduction of wound size, complete wound healing, treatment costs, or insufficient time-frames. Quality of life and patient (or carer) acceptability/satisfaction associated with foam dressings were not systematically measured in any of the included studies. We assessed the certainty of the evidence in the included trials as low to very low. Clinicians need to carefully consider the lack of robust evidence in relation to the clinical and cost-effectiveness of foam dressings for treating pressure ulcers when making treatment decisions, particularly when considering the wound management properties that may be offered by each dressing type and the care context.

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