Keeping legs free from pain of cellulitis | Action Medical Research

Keeping legs free from pain of cellulitis

6 June 2013

UK dermatologists have discovered that taking low dose penicillin twice a day for a year can reduce the number of repeat episodes of leg cellulitis, a painful condition where the skin becomes red, hot and swollen. But this protection is lost once the antibiotics are stopped so longer-term antibiotics may be required.

The results of the trial, led by Hywel Williams, Professor of Dermato-Epidemiology and Director of the Centre of Evidence Based Dermatology at The University of Nottingham, will improve the lives of many thousands of patients who suffer from this painful condition, and could potentially reduce costs to health care providers by reducing hospital admissions.

The results of the PATCH I trial, funded by the charity Action Medical Research through a three year grant awarded in 2005, were published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.  

Cellulitis of the leg is a common, painful and is most often caused by a potentially serious bacterial infection of the skin. It can spread rapidly and often leads to long-term damage. Cellulitis is one of the most common reasons for emergency admissions to hospital and up to half of patients have repeat attacks or other difficulties such as swelling and ulcers developing.

The trial, involving 274 patients from 28 hospitals across the UK and Eire, was designed to see if low dose penicillin (250 mg) taken twice a day for 12 months could prevent further attacks in patients who suffer from repeat episodes of leg cellulitis.

The PATCH I trial found that patients in the penicillin group were less likely to have another attack of cellulitis compared with the placebo group (22 per cent compared with 37 per cent). However, this protection was gradually lost after patients stopped taking the medication at 12 months. In fact, by three years, around half of all patients in both groups had suffered at least one further episode.

Professor Williams said: “Cellulitis of the leg is common. It causes a lot of pain and distress to patients, and results in time off work or other daily activities. The study now provides doctors and patients with clear information on the potential benefit of low dose penicillin to prevent recurrent cellulitis. This could have a big impact on the lives of millions of sufferers.”

Action Medical Research was founded in 1952. The charity has had a number of name changes over the years and since 2008 the remit has been to find and fund the very best medical research to help save and change children’s lives. Medical research into conditions that devastate children’s lives is poorly funded. The charity is currently funding research into conditions including Down syndrome, premature birth, epilepsy, meningitis and rare diseases.

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Action Medical Research is a UK-wide charity saving and changing children’s lives through medical research. We want to make a difference in:

  • tackling premature birth and treating sick and vulnerable babies
  • helping children affected by disability, disabling conditions and infections
  • targeting rare diseases that together severely affect many forgotten children.

Just one breakthrough, however small, can mean the world.

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