Judy Gates, RN, is the director of Banner Thunderbird Medical Center's Wound Care Clinic.
Question: What are pressure sores?
Answer: Pressure sores are also known as bedsores or decubitus ulcers. A pressure sore is an area of breakdown in the skin. This is usually caused by lying or sitting in one position for too long. The pressure on the skin leads to a lack of blood flow and tissue damage. Over time the skin will have an open ulcer that is difficult to heal.
Question: Where do pressure sores occur?
Answer: Pressure sores can occur on several areas of the body. The most common areas are the buttocks, hips, heels, and ankles. These are areas where the bones are close to the skin. Pressure or friction over these areas can lead to open sores.
Question: Who is at risk for pressure sores?
Answer: Anyone who has limited mobility is at risk to develop pressure sores. People often develop sores after an illness that causes them to be bedridden. An example would be someone with a recent stroke. Sitting in a wheelchair is also a risk factor. Certain diseases such as diabetes make it harder to heal these sores. Any vascular disease that interferes with blood flow to the skin can also lead to skin breakdown. Other risk factors are elderly age, incontinence, and malnutrition.
Question: What are the symptoms of a pressure sore?
Answer: Initially the skin can develop a red discoloration. The skin can also appear bluish purple hue , similar to a bruise. Later blisters can form and break open. If untreated., pressure sores can form deep ulcers. Damage can occur to the underlying tissue, muscle, or even bone. Pressure ulcers often become infected by bacteria if not treated promptly.
Question: How are pressure sores treated?
Answer: The first step is to relieve any pressure. Avoid laying directly on the affected area. It is important to change position frequent tly. Often foam pads or pillows can be placed to alleviate pressure points. Avoid using donut cushions, as these can block blood flow. Your health care provider can order specialty cushions or mattress covers that are designed to help you heal.
Keep the skin clean. Use a mild soap and water to clean the area. Pressure sores heal faster when they are covered with a bandage or gauze. Your healthcare provider will recommend a treatment specific to you needs. Often they will remove dead or loose tissue during visits to help you to heal. This is known as debridement.
Signs of infection are increasing redness, tenderness, foul odor, or pus draining from the wound. Deeper infection can cause fever, chills, or confusion. If you notice signs of infection call your healthcare provider right away . Infections are often treated with antibiotics and dressings that decrease bacterial growth.
Question: What can be done to avoid pressure ulcers?
Answer: Living a healthy lifestyle is the best prevention to avoiding pressure ulcers.
Exercise and mobility are important to avoid too much pressure on any one area. Bed bound persons should be turned at least every two hours. Monitor the skin frequently for early signs of redness or breakdown. Avoid smoking which prevents healing the skin. Eating a healthy diet is key to keeping the skin healthy. Notify your physician early if pressure sores develop.