Pressure ulcers are common in clinical practice and pose a significant health problem worldwide. Apart from causing suffering to patients, they also result in longer hospital stays and increase the cost of health care. A variety of methods are used for treating pressure ulcers, including pressure relief, patient repositioning, biophysical strategies, nutritional supplementation, debridement, topical negative pressure, and local treatments including dressings, ointments and creams such as bacitracin, silver sulphadiazine, neomycin, and phenytoin. Phenytoin is a drug more commonly used in the treatment of epilepsy, but may play an important role in accelerating ulcer healing.
To assess the effects of topical phenytoin on the rate of healing of pressure ulcers of any grade, in any care setting.
In September 2016, we searched the following electronic databases to identify relevant randomized clinical trials: the Cochrane Wounds Specialised Register; the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; the Cochrane Library); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid Embase; and EBSCO CINAHL Plus. We handsearched conference proceedings from the European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel, European Wound Management Association and the Tissue Viability Society for all available years. We searched the references of the retrieved trials to identify further relevant trials. We also searched clinical trials registries to identify ongoing and unpublished studies. There were no restrictions with respect to language, date of publication or study setting.
We included all randomized controlled trials (RCTs) addressing the effects (both benefits and harms) of topical phenytoin on the healing of pressure ulcers of any grade compared with placebo or alternative treatments or no therapy, irrespective of blinding, language, and publication status.
Two review authors independently selected studies, extracted information on participants, interventions, methods and results and assessed risk of bias using Cochrane methodological procedures. For dichotomous variables, we calculated the risk ratio (RR) with 95% confidence interval (CI). For continuous variables, we calculated the mean difference with 95% CI. We rated the quality of the evidence by using Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation approach (GRADE).
Three small RCTs met our inclusion criteria and included a total of 148 participants. These compared three treatments with topical phenytoin: hydrocolloid dressings, triple antibiotic ointment and simple dressings. In the three RCTs, 79% of participants had grade II ulcers, and 21% of participants had grade I ulcers; no participants had grade III or IV ulcers. Two RCTs had a high risk of bias overall and the other RCT was at unclear risk of bias due to poor reporting. Two RCTs had three intervention arms and the other had two intervention arms.Two studies compared topical phenytoin with hydrocolloid dressing (84 participants analysed). The available data suggest that hydrocolloid dressings may improve ulcer healing compared to topical phenytoin (39.3% ulcers healed for phenytoin versus 71.4% ulcers healed for hydrocolloid dressings (RR 0.55, 95% CI 0.33 to 0.92; 56 participants, 1 study; low quality evidence). We downgraded the evidence twice: once due to serious limitations (high risk of bias) and once due to the small sample size and small number of events. Two studies compared topical phenytoin with simple dressings (81 participants analysed). From the available data, we are uncertain whether topical phenytoin improves ulcer healing compared to simple dressings (39.3% ulcers healed for phenytoin versus 29.6% ulcers healed for the simple dressing (RR 1.33, 95% CI 0.63 to 2.78; 55 participants, 1 study; very low quality evidence). This evidence was downgraded once due to serious limitations (high risk of bias) and twice due to the low number of outcome events and resulting wide CI which included the possibility of both increased healing and reduced healing. We therefore considered it to be insufficient to determine the effect of topical phenytoin on ulcer healing. One study compared topical phenytoin with triple antibiotic ointment, however, none of the outcomes of interest to this review were reported. No adverse drug reactions or interactions were detected in any of the three RCTs. Minimal pain was reported in all groups in one trial that compared topical phenytoin with hydrocolloid dressings and triple antibiotic ointment.
This review has considered the available evidence and the result shows that it is uncertain whether topical phenytoin improves ulcer healing for patients with grade I and II pressure ulcers. No adverse events were reported from three small trials and minimal pain was reported in one trial. Therefore, further rigorous, adequately powered RCTs examining the effects of topical phenytoin for treating pressure ulcers, and to report on adverse events, quality of life and costs are necessary.