BACKGROUND: It is estimated that people in industrialised countries have a 1% chance of suffering from a leg ulcer at some time in their life. The majority of leg ulcers are associated with circulation problems; poor blood return in the veins causes venous ulcers (around 70% of ulcers) and poor blood supply to the legs causes arterial ulcers (around 25% of ulcers). Treatment of arterial leg ulcers is directed towards correcting the poor arterial blood supply, for example, by surgically correcting arterial blockages, and by supporting ulcer healing using topical agents (medicines in cream/ointment) and wound dressings. There are a large number of topical agents and wound dressings available and it is unclear what impact these have on ulcer healing. OBJECTIVES: To determine whether topical agents and wound dressings affect the rate of healing in arterial ulcers. To compare healing rates, costs and patient-centred outcomes between wound dressings and topical agents. SEARCH STRATEGY: Publications describing (or potentially describing) randomised controlled trials (RCTs), or controlled clinical trials (CCTs) of dressings and topical agents for arterial leg ulcers were sought through the Specialised Trials Registers of the Cochrane Wounds Group (last searched January 2002) and the Cochrane Peripheral Vascular Diseases Group (last searched April 2002). SELECTION CRITERIA: RCTs or CCTs (trials with non-randomised concurrent comparison groups) were eligible for inclusion. The participants had to have ulcers that were described as arterial, and the time to healing, proportion completely healed, or rate of reduction in ulcer area had to be reported. All wound dressings and topical agents were eligible for inclusion in this review. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Information on the participants' characteristics, the interventions, and outcomes, as well as data on the trial methods, such as blinding of patients and clinicians, and allocation concealment were extracted using a standardised data extraction form. MAIN RESULTS: One trial met the inclusion criteria. This small trial compared ketanserin ointment with vehicle alone, changed twice a day. The trial was too small and for too short a follow-up period to be able to determine whether there was any difference in healing rates. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: There is insufficient evidence to determine whether the choice of topical agent or dressing affects the healing of arterial leg ulcers. Inadequate description of the people in the one included trial means that the results cannot be easily applied to other clinical populations.