They are most commonly known as a pressure sore or bedsore. The more official medical designations are pressure ulcer or decubitus ulcer. No matter what one calls them, pressure sores are a potentially serious health threat, particularly to those who are confined to a bed or wheelchair. The sores are easily treatable if identified early on, but if allowed to progress unchecked they can lead to extremely serious consequences.
In it simplest manifestation, a pressure sore is an injury to the skin and the tissue under the skin, caused by remaining in a single position for too great a length of time. When the pressure of the body is focused on one area, particularly an area lacking in a padding of fat, the blood supply to that area is greatly reduced. Thus, a pressure sore is most likely to occur in bodily regions such as the hips, base of the spine, heels, or even the back of the head. With the blood supply cut off, or greatly reduced, a sore begins to form in the area that is experiencing the greatest pressure or friction.
A pressure sore can be mild, but it can also be very dangerous. In minor cases, when the sore is discovered early, damage may remain confined to the skin and the tissue directly underneath. However, if undetected or untreated, the sore can worsen and grow. It can easily expand and deepen until it reaches the muscles, or in the most severe cases, the bones. One of the greatest risks of a pressure sore comes from the high risk of infection.
The first sign of a pressure sore generally involves pain and a discoloration of the skin. Those suffering from diabetes or circulatory disorders should be more aware of there likelihood than the general population. In any case, treatment is required as soon as a pressure sore makes itself apparent.
A person dealing with pressure sores should change positions at least once every two hours, and must avoid lying, sitting, or standing on the sore. Any additional pressure will only worsen the problem and slow the healing process. The sore should also be kept clean, cleansed regularly with a salt-water solution, and covered with a gauze bandage. Dead tissue around the sore must be washed out or cut away. This can be a painful process, and sometimes requires the aid of a nurse or physician.
Infection from a pressure sore can easily spread to other parts of the body, leading to any number of problems. In a worst-case scenario, an untreated sore can be a contributing factor with a fatal conclusion. Up until the 1950s, pressure sores were one of the leading killers of patients who had been hospitalized for unrelated ailments.