Bedsores (also known as pressures sores or pressure ulcers) are areas of damaged skin caused by staying in one position for too long. Constant pressure on certain areas of the body prevents sufficient blood flow to those areas. Since these areas are not supplied with essential nutrients, the tissue begins to die.
Bedsores most commonly occur where soft tissue is compressed between bone and an external surface. These bony areas include the tailbone, hips, heels, ankles, back, and elbows. Anyone who is immobilized due to illness, injury, or sedation, such as people who use wheelchairs or are paralyzed, is at risk for developing bedsores.
Bedsores can develop and get worse rapidly, and advanced sores take a long time to heal. If not treated right away, bedsores can lead to serious and life-threatening infections such as cellulitis (infection of connective tissue), bone and joint infections, and sepsis (bacterial infection of the bloodstream). Sepsis could then lead to organ failure and death.
Most bedsores can be prevented with the following strategies:
- Change position. People who are bound to a chair or wheelchair should shift position every 15 minutes. Those who are confined to a bed should move (or be moved) to a new position every 2 hours, even during the night.
- Keep skin clean and dry. Moisture increases the risk of skin breaking down. Bacteria from fecal matter can result in serious and life-threatening infections. For those confined to a bed, keep sheets clean and dry as well.
- Protect bony areas. Use soft materials such as foam wedges to protect bony areas like the heels and elbows.
- Use pressure-reducing beds, mattresses, or cushions. Examples include those filled with foam, air, gel, or water. Talk to a doctor or nurse about what is appropriate for you.
- Perform daily skin inspections. Any sign of redness or discoloration indicates that your position should be changed. The area should also be washed and dried thoroughly, and, for open sores, covered with a protective dressing.
- Get help at the first sign of infection. If you notice any skin damage or sign of infection (drainage, odour, redness, warmth), tell your doctor, nurse, or caregiver immediately.
- Maintain proper nutrition. Good nutrition will promote wound healing and prevent skin from breaking down. If you are having difficulty eating, speak to your doctor or a dietician.