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Pentoxifylline for intermittent claudication (Review)

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Salhiyyah K1, Senanayake E, Abdel-Hadi M, Booth A, Michaels JA.A



Intermittent claudication (IC) is a symptom of peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAD). It is associated with high morbidity and mortality. Pentoxifylline is one of many drugs used to treat IC. Pentoxifylline decreases blood viscosity, improves erythrocyte flexibility, and increases microcirculatory flow and tissue oxygen concentration.Many studies have evaluated the efficacy of pentoxifylline in treating PAD but the results of these studies are very variable.


To determine the efficacy of pentoxifylline in improving the walking capacity (that is pain-free walking distance and the total (absolute, maximum) walking distance) of patients with stable intermittent claudication, Fontaine stage II.


The Cochrane Peripheral Vascular Diseases Group searched their Specialised Register (last searched January 2011) and CENTRAL (2011, Issue 1). In addition, we searched MEDLINE (Week 2 January 2011) and EMBASE (2011 Week 03). and Current Controlled Trials were searched for ongoing or unpublished trials.


All double blind, randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing pentoxifylline to placebo or any other pharmacological intervention in patients with IC Fontaine stage II.


Included studies were assessed separately by two review authors. Data were matched and disagreements resolved by discussion. The quality of the studies was assessed using the Jadad score and the Cochrane risk of bias tool. Results relating to pain-free walking distance (PFWD) and total walking distance (TWD) were collected. Studies were compared based on the duration and dose of pentoxifylline.


Twenty-three studies with 2816 participants were included in this review. There was considerable heterogeneity between the included studies with regards to multiple variables including duration of treatment, dose of pentoxifylline, baseline walking distance and patient characteristics, and therefore pooled analysis was not possible. The quality of the included studies was generally low. There was very large variability in the reported findings between the individual studies. In a total of 17 studies which compared pentoxifylline with placebo, of which 14 reported TWD and 11 reported PFWD, the difference in percentage improvement in TWD for pentoxifylline over placebo ranged from 1.2% to 155.9%, and for PFWD the difference ranged from -33.8% to 73.9%. Testing for statistical significance of these results was generally not possible due to the lack of data. There was no statistically significant difference in ankle brachial pressure index (ABI) between the pentoxifylline and placebo groups. Pentoxifylline was generally well tolerated.


Given the generally poor quality of the published studies and the large degree of heterogeneity in the interventions and the results, the overall benefit of pentoxifylline for patients with Fontaine class II intermittent claudication remains uncertain. Pentoxifylline is generally well tolerated.  Based on the totality of the available evidence, it is possible that pentoxifylline could have a place in the treatment of IC as a means of improving walking distance and as a complimentary treatment assuming all other essential measures such as lifestyle change, exercise and treatment for secondary prevention have been taken into account. However, the response to pentoxifylline should be assessed on an individual basis.

Resources: Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jan 18;1:CD005262.