A pressure ulcer, also known as a bedsore or decubitus ulcer, is a wound of the skin caused by prolonged, unrelieved pressure to that area. Pressure ulcers occur most frequently around bony prominences such as the tailbone, hips, heels, ankles and elbows.
Many factors can contribute to the formation of pressure ulcers. The main cause is unrelieved pressure to a location of skin on the body. This constant pressure inflicts damage by decreasing the area’s blood supply and traumatizing the skin. When this pressurized spot rubs against other surfaces (such as bed sheets or wheel chairs), the tissue is further damaged. Other contributing factors are:
Pressure ulcers are categorized according to their characteristics by their severity:
Stage I: The beginning stage
Stage II: An open wound
Stage III: A deep wound
Stage IV: Large scale tissue loss
Pain can be a common symptom of pressure ulcers. Having any of the characteristics defined in the stages of pressure ulcers is cause for concern. A red mark that does not change over time or a blister that appears to worsen may be a pressure ulcer and should be evaluated by a healthcare professional.
Anyone with limited mobility is at risk for developing pressure ulcers. Immobility, temporary or permanent, may be due to:
Other risk factors include:
If not treated, pressure ulcers can lead to sepsis (infection of the blood), bone and joint infections and death. Stages I and II pressure ulcers heal within several weeks with general wound care and treatment of the risk factors contributing to the wound’s formation. Stages III and IV ulcers are difficult to treat and, if found in an individual with multiple chronic conditions or a terminal illness, treatment may simply be focused on managing the wound rather than on healing it completely. General wound care involves a combination of the following:
Other treatments include antibiotics, pain management and improving nutrition.
Pressure ulcers are much easier to prevent than to treat, but that doesn’t mean they all can be prevented. Wounds may still develop with persistent and appropriate care due to the overwhelming nature of risk factors in some individuals. Take the following steps to help prevent pressure ulcers: