Current statistics show that each year in North America well over 1,000,000 people who are receiving care in hospitals, nursing homes or at home, develop pressure ulcers. It is estimated that the cost of treating a pressure ulcer can exceed $40,000 so in strictly financial terms it makes great sense to prevent the condition.
Pressure ulcers are often called bedsores because they are most common to people who are confined to their beds. However, anybody can develop these painful skin problems.
Essentially, pressure ulcers occur when any part of a person’s body is kept in one position for too long. Healthy people naturally move about and change position so that these ulcers do not develop. Consequently, the types of patients who are at risk include people with joint disorders, plaster casts or paralysis, those who are unconscious and those who are in wheel chairs. In fact, anybody who is immobile is at risk of developing this condition and it is common for a hospital patient to have his or her hospital stay prolonged because of the development of these ulcers.
Pressure ulcers can be painful, ugly and downright depressing. Read on to learn to prevent them in the first place, and provide a better quality of life for yourself or a loved one.
The mix of preventive measures and treatment for a pressure ulcer is specific to each person, but there are general guidelines that are important to understand. Indeed, the most important goal of this book is to provide understanding of the nature of a pressure ulcer so that the actions you take make sense and motivate you to comply with your health care professional’s directions.
Once you understand the causes of a pressure ulcer and the nature of the problem, all your actions will appear to be common sense and you will be able to take the initiative in speeding up the healing process. By helping your health care professional you help yourself. Once you are thoroughly comfortable with the information presented in this book, we suggest you complete the following important tasks:
• Prepare a list of specific preventive measures as recommended by your health care professional.
• Develop habits to help prevent pressure ulcers.
READ MORE: Causes of Pressure Ulcers
WHAT IS A PRESSURE ULCER?
Put simply, a pressure ulcer usually appears as an open wound due to the skin becoming so badly damaged that it breaks down or dies. The problem can present itself as a simple nuisance or as a life-threatening condition.
A number of factors can contribute to the development of a pressure ulcer but the cause is unequalized pressure (usually in bony areas such as the heel of the foot, the elbow, the lower back or the shoulders) for an extended period of time because the patient is inactive, confined perhaps to a bed or wheelchair. Although further details will be given later, the simple reason for the pressure is the reduced blood supply to the area.
In its early stages, a pressure ulcer can appear harmless enough – the color of the skin turns pink or red and does not return to normal after the pressure is removed. As the condition worsens, the skin eventually becomes cracked, blistered or broken.
In order to better understand the concept, consider what happens when a tourniquet is applied to a badly bleeding wound to reduce the blood supply and prevent massive bleeding. Pressure on the skin and underlying tissue works like a tourniquet in that it prevents the supply of blood and nutrients from reaching that particular area. If the situation becomes chronic, cells will die. In fact, once the skin color turns from red or pink to white, and remains white, deterioration of the skin and tissue has already occurred.
Earlier we mentioned that there are other names for pressure ulcers, so let’s get the terminology into perspective. Keep in mind that the cause and basic treatment principles are the same for all of these conditions. The name difference is related to the possible cause of the ulcer, the preference of the health care practitioner and the area of skin at risk.
In medical terms, an ulcer refers to a crater-like lesion. A peptic ulcer, for instance, has the same characteristics but is found in the stomach and is caused by distinctive factors that differ from those which cause pressure ulcers.
Skin breakdown often happens to people who are bedridden and not very mobile. Continuous unequalized pressure is exerted on certain parts of the body due to lack of movement. The condition can be tender and painful.
This is the traditional medical term. Decubitus (pronounced dee-CUBE-i-tus) derives from the Latin word “decumbere” meaning to lie down, referring to its frequent occurrence among people who are immobile and confined to bed.
The leg ulcer differs from other types of skin wounds because of its unique causative factors and requires a more complicated treatment plan, which we will not go into here.
A wound is a break in the skin, usually associated with physical injury. This is possibly the furthest removed term for a pressure ulcer but the medical profession often includes this term in the pressure ulcer category. It’s fair to note that a normal wound, with none of the high-risk factors such as poor circulation, or pressure on the skin due to immobility, will generally heal more quickly than a pressure ulcer.
Whenever you hear any of these terms – with the possible exception of wound – you can be assured that they mean the same thing as a pressure ulcer. Although we have decided to use the term pressure ulcer throughout this article, don’t be confused if your nurse, health care professional or physician calls your condition by any of the other names we have listed. As we said earlier, it’s often simply a matter of personal preference.