Pressure Ulcers: A silent epidemic
There is a hidden epidemic that strikes up to 4.5 million times each year, yet few people talk about it. Pressure ulcers are no longer referred to as bedsores, but the name change hasn’t encouraged discussion about these wounds that develop when there is prolonged pressure between the skin and bone.
"An aging population, along with rising rates of diabetes and obesity, mean more and more people are at risk for pressure ulcers,” explains Jay Logeman, MD, general surgeon with The Christ Hospital Wound Healing Center. “It is important to become informed and know how to prevent them and how to treat them so that they do not get worse and more difficult to cure.”
What are pressure ulcers?
Pressure ulcers occur when a person remains in one position for too long without shifting his or her weight, which decreases the blood supply to the area causing skin and tissue to break down. If not properly treated, these areas may evolve into wounds that can extend down to bone.
The primary treatment is to relieve or reduce the pressure. Additional care may also involve removing the non-living tissue from around the wound with surgical instruments or with newly developed dressings and chemicals.
The first visible signs of a pressure ulcer may be a red area on the skin that doesn't fade or, for those with darker complexions, persistent areas of red, blue or purple with a different skin temperature or texture.
In addition to the elderly and people with diabetes, others at risk are those with limited mobility, poor nutrition, incontinence and conditions that prevent blood flow and cause lack of sensation. Experts at The Christ Hospital Wound Healing Center offer these tips for lowering your risk:
- Change your position every 15 minutes when sitting and at least every two hours in bed.
- Donut-type pillows can harm tissue. Purchase commercially available pressure reducing cushions and mattresses, but avoid those that resemble egg crate foam.
- Place a pillow under your calves to prevent your heels from touching the bed and using pillows and foam wedges to keep ankles and knees apart.
- In treating incontinence, cleanse skin and use a topical moisture barrier. Avoid using plastic-backed linen-saving devices or diapers.
- Use mild soaps and water when bathing and apply skin moisturizers to prevent dryness.
- If confined to bed, do not raise the head of the bed more than 30 degrees and use an overhead trapeze to assist in movement.
- Seek medical treatment if ulcers show warning signs of infection including increased pain at the wound site, redness or swelling spreading away from the wound, a foul wound odor, change in color or amount of drainage from the wound or if you experience fever, chills, nausea or vomiting.
For more information about treating and preventing pressure ulcers and other chronic wounds, please contact The Christ Hospital Wound Healing Center at 513-585-4595 or visit www.TheChristHospital.com.