What is Negative Pressure Wound Therapy?

Negative pressure wound therapy (NPWT) is a type of wound treatment that uses vacuum pressure to increase blood flow to the wound area while drawing excess fluid out at the same time. NPWT has been found to promote healing for many types of wounds, including diabetic ulcers, bedsores, burns, and wounds that are at a high risk for infection or have large amounts of drainage. However, wounds with exposed blood vessels, nerves, or organs cannot be treated with NPWT.

The procedure starts out with a piece of sterile foam or gauze that is placed over the wound, which is covered with a clear dressing, creating an airtight seal. Then, a pump is attached to the dressing. The pump can be programmed to deliver the appropriate suction strength either continuously or intermittently, depending on the condition and location of the wound. Dressings are changed approximately every three to seven days. This type of wound therapy may be used for a few days up to several months at a time. To help NPWT work effectively, the following must be done:

  • Check that the negative pressure seal is intact to prevent leaks.
  • Change dressings regularly.
  • Empty the drainage chamber when it is full.
  • Monitor any changes in the wound.
Aside from its ability to enhance wound healing, NPWT has other advantages over conventional wound treatment techniques. For instance, the procedure is non-invasive -- stitches or incisions are not required. Also, the pump is small enough to be carried around, so the patient is not confined to a hospital bed. In fact, NPWT may be performed safely at home by a healthcare provider.

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