Hydrogel dressings to promote diabetic foot ulcer healing

Diabetes, a condition which leads to high blood glucose concentrations, is a common condition with around 2.8 million people affected in the UK (approximately 3% of the population). Dressings are a widely used treatment when caring for foot ulcers in people with diabetes. There are many types of dressings that can be used, which also vary considerably in cost. This review (five studies involving a total of 446 people) suggests that hydrogel dressings may be more effective than basic wound contact dressings in healing foot ulcers in people with diabetes although the original research may be biased. There is insufficient research comparing hydrogel with advanced dressing types to allow conclusions to be drawn regarding relative effectiveness in terms of ulcer healing.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is some evidence to suggest that hydrogel dressings are more effective in healing (lower grade) diabetic foot ulcers than basic wound contact dressings however this finding is uncertain due to risk of bias in the original studies. There is currently no research evidence to suggest that hydrogel is more effective than larval therapy or platelet-derived growth factors in healing diabetic foot ulcers, nor that one brand of hydrogel is more effective than another in ulcer healing. No RCTs comparing hydrogel dressings with other advanced dressing types were found.

Read the full abstract...

Foot ulcers in people with diabetes are a prevalent and serious global health issue. Dressings form a key part of ulcer treatment, with clinicians and patients having many different types to choose from including hydrogel dressings. A clear and current overview of current evidence is required to facilitate decision-making regarding dressing use.


To assess the effects of hydrogel wound dressings compared with alternative dressings or none on the healing of foot ulcers in people with diabetes.

Search strategy: 

For this first update, in April 2013, we searched the following databases the Cochrane Wounds Group Specialised Register; The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library); 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Published or unpublished randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that have compared the effects on ulcer healing of hydrogel with alternative wound dressings or no dressing in the treatment of foot ulcers in people with diabetes.

Data collection and analysis: 

Two review authors independently performed study selection, risk of bias assessment and data extraction.

Main results: 

We included five studies (446 participants) in this review. Meta analysis of three studies comparing hydrogel dressings with basic wound contract dressings found significantly greater healing with hydrogel: risk ratio (RR) 1.80, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.27 to 2.56. The three pooled studies had different follow-up times (12 weeks, 16 weeks and 20 weeks) and also evaluated ulcers of different severities (grade 3 and 4; grade 2 and grade unspecified). One study compared a hydrogel dressing with larval therapy and found no statistically significant difference in the number of ulcers healed and another found no statistically significant difference in healing between hydrogel and platelet-derived growth factor. There was also no statistically significant difference in number of healed ulcers between two different brands of hydrogel dressing. All included studies were small and at unclear risk of bias and there was some clinical heterogeneity with studies including different ulcer grades. No included studies compared hydrogel with other advanced wound dressings.