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Prevalence of plantar ulcer and its risk factors in leprosy: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

BACKGROUND: Plantar ulcers are a leading complication of leprosy that requires frequent visits to hospital and is associated with stigma. The extent of burden of ulcers in leprosy and its risk factors are scant impeding the development of targeted interventions to prevent and promote healing of ulcers. The aim of this review is to generate evidence on the prevalence of plantar ulcer and its risk factors in leprosy.

METHODS: Databases (Medline, Embase, Web of Science, CINAHL, BVS), conference abstracts and reference lists were searched for eligible studies. Studies were included that reported a point prevalence of plantar ulcer and/or its "risk factors" associated with development of ulcers (either causatively or predictively), including individual level, disease related and bio-mechanical factors. We followed PRISMA guidelines for this review. Random-effects meta-analysis was undertaken to estimate the pooled point prevalence of ulcers. Reported risk factors in included studies were narratively synthesised. This review is registered in PROSPERO: CRD42022316726.

RESULTS: Overall, 15 studies (8 for prevalence of ulcer and 7 for risk factors) met the inclusion criteria. The pooled point prevalence of ulcer was 34% (95% CIs: 21%, 46%) and 7% (95% CIs: 4%, 11%) among those with foot anaesthesia and among all people affected by leprosy, respectively. Risk factors for developing ulcers included: unable to feel 10 g of monofilament on sensory testing, pronated/hyper-pronated foot, foot with peak plantar pressure, foot with severe deformities, and those with lower education and the unemployed.

CONCLUSIONS: The prevalence of plantar ulceration in leprosy is as high as 34% among those with loss of sensation in the feet. However, the incidence and recurrence rates of ulceration are least reported. The inability to feel 10 g of monofilament appears to be a strong predictor of those at risk of developing ulcers. However, there is a paucity of evidence on identifying those at risk of developing plantar ulcers in leprosy. Prospective studies are needed to estimate the incidence of ulcers. Identifying individuals at risk of ulcers will help design targeted interventions to minimize risk factors, prevent ulcers and promote ulcer healing.

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