Commonly referred to as bedsores, pressure ulcers or pressure sores are areas of injured skin that result from staying in one position for a long period of time. Being bedridden or confined to a wheelchair puts a person at a high risk of developing such sores. The most commonly affected sites are the buttocks, hips, lower back, shoulder blade and spine areas, and backs of arms and legs. A pressure ulcer typically starts out as tender, reddish skin and may turn into a shallow wound that appears like a blister. At the next stage, it becomes a deep wound with yellowish dead tissue and some exposed fat. The most severe pressure ulcers are large wounds with dark dead tissue and exposed muscle or bone. Early detection and treatment are crucial as ulcers tend to develop rapidly and cause infections that could eventually lead to organ failure.
Mild sores may heal on their own when pressure on the affected area is reduced. This can be accomplished by simply repositioning the body every hour. If the sores are painful or infected, medications such as pain relievers and antibiotics may be prescribed. Cleaning the wound and changing dressings regularly also help the healing process. Severe pressure ulcers, on the other hand, may require surgery, which involves removal of any damaged, infected, or dead tissue and closing the wound. Wound closure can be achieved either by stitching the skin edges together or by using a flap of the patient’s own tissue.
If you need to have pressure ulcer surgery, you will likely be on bedrest for a few weeks to allow the wound to heal completely. You and your family members will be given instructions on positioning and transfer techniques to help keep pressure off the wound. When your doctor thinks you are ready, she will give you special exercises to help you regain your range of motion. To prevent the recurrence of ulcers, you or your caregiver should be diligent about changing positions regularly, observing for early signs of new pressure sores, and replacing any worn-out mattresses or cushions.