Loop Drainage Is Noninferior to Traditional Incision and Drainage of Cutaneous Abscesses in the Emergency Department


Department of Emergency Medicine, Advocate Christ Medical Center


BACKGROUND: There is limited research on loop drainage (LD) compared to incision and drainage (I&D) for treatment of cutaneous abscesses. We investigated whether LD was noninferior to I&D for abscess resolution and whether there was any difference in repeat ED visits or complication rates between these techniques.

METHODS: We performed a prospective randomized controlled trial, using a convenience sample at an urban academic emergency department (ED). Subjects over 18 years who presented for first-time management of an abscess were eligible. Patients requiring specialist drainage or hospital admission or had previous treatment for the abscess were excluded. Enrolled subjects were seen 2 weeks after treatment for blinded reevaluation of abscess resolution, and the electronic medical record was reviewed for return ED visits/abscess complications.

RESULTS: Of 2,889 patients screened, 238 subjects consented and were randomized to LD or I&D. Abscess resolution was achieved in 53/65 (81.5%) of patients in the I&D arm, compared to 66/75 (88%) in the LD arm. Fewer patients in the LD group compared to the I&D group returned to the ED for abscess-related management during the following 14 days (37.3% vs 67.1%, p = 0.002). Among returning subjects, there was a significant difference in mean visits per subject between LD and I&D groups (0.5 vs. 1.2, p = 0.001). There were fewer complications among LD than I&D subjects (9.3% vs. 24.6%, p = 0.01).

CONCLUSION: Our study provides evidence that LD is noninferior to I&D in achieving complete abscess resolution at 14 days and is associated with fewer return ED visits and fewer complications. This makes it an attractive alternative treatment option for abscesses.

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