How to Recognize Pressure Ulcers

Left untreated, pressure ulcers can become painful.

A pressure ulcer is a skin and tissue injury usually caused by unrelieved pressure. Pressure ulcers, also called bed sores or decubitus ulcers, can be mild (reddened skin areas) to severe (deep craters exposing muscle and bone).

Unrelieved Pressures

These external ulcers occur as a result of unrelieved pressure squeezing tiny blood vessels, which then robs the skin and tissue of the necessary oxygen and nutrients to stay healthy. The longer the pressure is unrelieved, the more tissue dies and the resulting injury is a pressure ulcer.

Rubbing & Friction

Pressure is not the only factor that influences pressure ulcer development. They can also occur as a result of sliding down in a chair or bed or any rubbing or friction. Skin areas that are usually moist are also more at risk.
Surprisingly, pressure ulcers can develop in as little as two hours for people at risk! People at risk can be elderly, may have a chronic illness or disease, are immobile, weak or debilitated, have an altered mental status, poor nutrition or have decreased sensation and/or paralysis.

Reddened or Blistered Skin

A pressure ulcer begins as a reddened or blistered area on the skin. If the reddening disappears after the pressure is relieved, it is NOT considered a pressure ulcer. The affected area may feel warmer to the touch than the surrounding skin. If care is not provided to prevent further injury however, the skin may open and a wound will develop. These wounds tend to be chronic in nature and difficult to heal once developed. It is estimated that nearly 60,000 hospital patients die annually from complications related to pressure ulcers. It is further estimated that there are more than 2.5 million people treated each year in the United States for pressure ulcers, with a cost estimated to be $11 billion each year.

With these staggering statistics in mind, it would make sense for elderly people and others at risk to be well informed about how to prevent pressure ulcer development.

These are a few things that will be helpful in keeping your skin protected:

• Change your position often. When lying in bed, change your position every one to two hours. When sitting, shift your weight every 15–20 minutes.
• Change linens, clothing and incontinence products as soon as they are soiled
• Use a cream or ointment designed to guard your skin against moisture caused by urine, feces, sweat or wound drainage
• Talk with your physician, nurse or therapist about choosing a cushion or mattress that will best meet your needs for pressure relief
• NEVER use a ‘donut’ or any circular type of cushion for pressure relief
• Drink plenty of water daily and eat lots of protein, as long as you do not have any protein or fluid restrictions prescribed by your physician

If you notice a pressure ulcer developing, keep the area clean and dry and keep pressure off the area until you can be evaluated by a health care professional. An ounce of prevention is more than worth a pound of cure when it comes to pressure ulcers.

Learn more about pressure ulcers here: