Pressure Ulcer Treatment Strategies: A Systematic Comparative Effectiveness Review

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Pressure ulcers affect as many as 3 million Americans and are major sources of morbidity, mortality, and health care costs.


To summarize evidence comparing the effectiveness and safety of treatment strategies for adults with pressure ulcers.

Data Sources:

MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, Evidence-Based Medicine Reviews, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, and Health Technology Assessment Database for English- or foreign-language studies; reference lists; gray literature; and individual product packets from manufacturers (January 1985 to October 2012).

Study Selection:

Randomized trials and comparative observational studies of treatments for pressure ulcers in adults and noncomparative intervention series (n > 50) for surgical interventions and evaluation of harms.

Data Extraction:

Data were extracted and evaluated for accuracy of the extraction, quality of included studies, and strength of evidence.

Data Synthesis:

174 studies met inclusion criteria and 92 evaluated complete wound healing. In comparison with standard care, placebo, or sham interventions, moderate-strength evidence showed that air-fluidized beds (5 studies [n = 908]; high consistency), protein-containing nutritional supplements (12 studies [n = 562]; high consistency), radiant heat dressings (4 studies [n = 160]; moderate consistency), and electrical stimulation (9 studies [n = 397]; moderate consistency) improved healing of pressure ulcers. Low-strength evidence showed that alternating-pressure surfaces, hydrocolloid dressings, platelet-derived growth factor, and light therapy improved healing of pressure ulcers. The evidence about harms was limited.


Applicability of results is limited by study quality, heterogeneity in methods and outcomes, and inadequate duration to assess complete wound healing.


Moderate-strength evidence shows that healing of pressure ulcers in adults is improved with the use of air-fluidized beds, protein supplementation, radiant heat dressings, and electrical stimulation.

Primary Funding Source:

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

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