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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(2):CD001733.

Oral pentoxifylline for treatment of venous leg ulcers.

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Nursing Service, Auckland Healthcare Services, Private Bag 92024, Auckland, New Zealand.

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Healing of venous leg ulcers is improved by the use of compression bandaging but some venous ulcers do not respond to compression therapy. Pentoxifylline, a drug which helps blood flow, has been used to treat venous leg ulcers but to date there has been no systematic review.


To assess the effects of pentoxifylline ('Trental 400') for treating venous leg ulcers, when compared with placebo, or in comparison with other therapies, in the presence or absence of compression therapy.


We searched the Cochrane Peripheral Vascular Diseases and Wounds Groups specialised registers (date of search August 1999), and reference lists of relevant articles. We hand searched relevant journals and conference proceedings, and contacted Hoechst (the manufacturer of the drug) and experts in the field.


Randomised trials comparing pentoxifylline with placebo or other therapy in the presence or absence of compression, in patients with venous leg ulcers.


Details from eligible trials were extracted and summarised by one reviewer using a coding sheet. Data extraction was independently verified by one other reviewer.


Nine trials involving 572 adults were included. The quality of trials was variable. Eight trials compared pentoxifylline with placebo; in five of these trials patients received compression therapy. In one trial pentoxifylline was compared with defibrotide in patients who also received compression. By pooling eight trials that compared pentoxifylline with placebo (with or without compression) it was found pentoxifylline was more effective than placebo in terms of complete healing or significant improvement (relative risk for healing with pentoxifylline compared with placebo 1.41, 95% confidence interval 1.19 -1.66). Pentoxifylline and compression was more effective than placebo and compression (relative risk for healing with pentoxifylline 1.30, 95% confidence interval 1.10-1.54). Combination of similar trials using compression obtained a number needed to treat (NNT) of 7 (95%confidence interval 4-17). A comparison between pentoxifylline and defibrotide found no difference in healing rates. More adverse effects were reported in the pentoxifylline group, although this was not statistically significant (relative risk for adverse effects with pentoxifylline 1. 25, 95% confidence interval 0.87-1.80). Nearly half of the adverse effects were reported to be gastro-intestinal.


Pentoxifylline appears to be an effective adjunct to compression bandaging for treating venous ulcers. There was no cost effectiveness data available and healthcare commissioners may therefore conclude that it not be considered a routine adjunct. Pentoxifylline in the absence of compression may be effective for treating venous ulcers in the absence of compression, although the evidence should be cautiously interpreted. The majority of adverse effects are likely to be tolerated by patients, and gastrointestinal disturbances (indigestion, diarrhoea and nausea) are the most frequent adverse effect.

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