Pressure ulcers are injuries which occur when prolonged pressure on a particular area of the body interrupts the blood flow, causing tissue death. These injuries can become very serious or even deadly if they are not addressed, making it critical to take steps to prevent pressure ulcers, and to treat them rapidly whenever they appear. These injuries may also be referred to as pressure sores, bedsores, or decubitus ulcers, and medical professionals who work in environments where people are at increased risk are often trained in the prevention and management of pressure ulcers.
People who spend a great deal of time in bed, even if only for a few days while recovering from surgery, are at risk for pressure ulcers, as are individuals in wheelchairs, people with fragile skin, elderly individuals, and people with circulatory conditions. These sores can also emerge in response to friction, as in the case or sores which may appear on the thighs of someone with urinary incontinence.
In the early stages, a pressure ulcer looks reddened and slightly inflamed. Over time, a blister develops, and cracks open into a sore which can turn into a crater. If the pressure ulcer is not treated, it can reach the bone. Typically the sore develops a foul odor and an unpleasant discharge, and it can also be extremely painful for the patient. The open sore also exposes the patient to the risk of infection, which can be very dangerous in a hospital environment.
When a pressure ulcer is identified, the first step in treatment is removing pressure, which can be accomplished with specialized padding and rotation of the patient's body. The skin must also be kept clean and dry, and topical products may be used to treat the ulcer and reduce friction. Dressings will be used on larger sores to reduce the risk of developing infection and to keep the patient more comfortable. If the necrosis has been allowed to progress to an extreme state, surgery may be necessary to trim away the dead and infected tissue.
Prevention of pressure ulcers starts with reducing pressure on the body. For example, a patient may be regularly moved so that no one area of the body is subjected to intense pressure, and padding may be used to keep a patient more comfortable and to reduce pressure. Patients also need to be carefully monitored for any signs of developing pressure ulcers, and caring for the skin by keeping it clean, dry, and well-moisturized can be a big help.