Alginate dressings for venous leg ulcers

Venous leg ulcers are a common and recurring type of chronic or complex wound which can be distressing for patients and costly to healthcare providers. Compression therapy, in the form of bandages or stockings, is considered to be the cornerstone of venous leg ulcer management. Dressings are applied underneath bandages or stockings with the aim of protecting the wound and providing a moist environment to aid healing. Alginate dressings contain substances derived from seaweed and are one of several types of wound dressings available. We evaluated the evidence from five randomised controlled trials that compared either different brands of alginate dressings, or alginate dressings with other types of dressings. In terms of wound healing, we found no good evidence to suggest that there is any difference between different brands of alginate dressings, nor between alginate dressings and hydrocolloid or plain non-adherent dressings. Adverse events were generally similar between treatment groups (but not assessed for alginate versus plain non-adherent dressings). Overall, the current evidence is of low quality. Further, good quality evidence is required before any definitive conclusions can be made regarding the use of alginate dressings in the management of venous leg ulcers.

Authors' conclusions: 

The current evidence base does not suggest that alginate dressings are more or less effective in the healing of venous leg ulcers than hydrocolloid or plain non-adherent dressings, and there is no evidence to indicate a difference between different proprietary alginate dressings. However, the RCTs in this area are considered to be of low or unclear methodological quality. Further, good quality evidence is required from well designed and rigorously conducted RCTs that employ - and clearly report on - methods to minimise bias, prior to any definitive conclusions being made regarding the efficacy of alginate dressings in the management of venous leg ulcers.

Read the full abstract...

Venous leg ulcers are a common and recurring type of chronic, complex wound associated with considerable cost to patients and healthcare providers. To aid healing, primary wound contact dressings are usually applied to ulcers beneath compression devices. Alginate dressings are used frequently and there is a variety of alginate products on the market, however, the evidence base to guide dressing choice is sparse. 


To determine the effects of alginate dressings compared with alternative dressings, non-dressing treatments or no dressing, with or without concurrent compression therapy, on the healing of venous leg ulcers.

Search strategy: 

For this first update, in March 2015, we searched the following databases: The Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register; The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL); Ovid MEDLINE; Ovid MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations); Ovid EMBASE; and EBSCO CINAHL. There were no restrictions based on language or date of publication.

Selection criteria: 

Published or unpublished randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that evaluated the effects of any type of alginate dressing in the treatment of venous ulcers were included.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently performed study selection, data extraction and risk of bias assessment. Meta-analysis was undertaken when deemed feasible and appropriate.

Main results: 

Five RCTs (295 participants) were included in this review. All were identified during the original review. The overall risk of bias was high for two RCTs and unclear for three. One RCT compared different proprietary alginate dressings (20 participants), three compared alginate and hydrocolloid dressings (215 participants), and one compared alginate and plain non-adherent dressings (60 participants). Follow-up periods were six weeks in three RCTs and 12 weeks in two. No statistically significant between-group differences were detected for any comparison, for any healing outcome. Meta-analysis was feasible for one comparison (alginate and hydrocolloid dressings), with data from two RCTs (84 participants) pooled for complete healing at six weeks: risk ratio 0.42 (95% confidence interval 0.14 to 1.21). Adverse event profiles were generally similar between groups (not assessed for alginate versus plain non-adherent dressings).