hospital bed

Bed sores: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Pressure sores, or bed sores, are frequently experienced in medical care facilities. Medical providers on a daily basis work to relieve the risks of bedsores, but proper bedsore prevention can help too. Bed sores impact anyone that stays in the same position for long periods of time.

For example, a person who suffers from paralysis cannot switch positions often enough are at high risk of ending up with a bed sore.

If this person were to remain in the same position for days or weeks, they would develop what’s called a “pressure sore.” Essentially, pressure sores occur when pressure is unrelieved on one part of the body for a long period of time.

This causes the blood to pool in one area, the skin starts to die and causes sores to develop.

Causes of Bed Sores

Bed sores are caused due to a lack of movement. If a person cannot move even minimally, there’s a good chance that they’ll develop bed sores. The only way that a bed sore will not form is if proper prevention methods are taken (more on that below).

Nursing and medical facilities must take preventative actions for anyone that cannot properly move.

The right precautions will ensure that a bed sore doesn’t present. Sores will often present on the boniest areas of the body, including:

  • Ankles
  • Heels
  • Elbows
  • Tailbone
  • Knees
  • Coccyx

Even with the right knowledge, bed sores are still very common in intensive care units in the United States. Statistics suggest that 16.6% – 20.7% of people in intensive care will develop a bed sore in the United States.

Fatal complications are rare, but they can and do occur if treatment comes too late.

It’s important that a medical staff identify bed sores in the early stages. A lot of patients will be able to receive fast treatment and reduce their risks of further complications if the bed sore is properly diagnosed during the initial stages of development.

Otherwise, the bed sore can progress to the point where surgery is the only treatment.

Pressure Sore Symptoms

Sores develop over time, and pressure sores need to have a doctor diagnose them properly. However, if you know the stages and what symptoms will occur, it’s easier to alert medical professionals that a problem exists.

There are four main stages of a bed sore.

Proper treatment and identification can properly identify a bed sore in the initial stages of the problem.

  • Stage 1. The initial stage of a bed sore will include skin that may be itchy, red and feel warm when touched. Of course, the area impacted would be an area of the skin where pressure has been consistent and frequent.
  • Stage 2. During the second stage, the skin will start to look discolored around the area where the sore is present. A blister or open sore will be present in the second stage.
  • Stage 3. An advanced stage for a bed sore, the third stage includes tissue damage that begins under the skin. Tissue damage will lead to a crater-like appearance.
  • Stage 4. The final stage of a bed sore is where severe damage has occurred to the tissue and skin. Infection may set in at this point. Bones, muscles and tendons may be visible at this time.

When a sore is infected, the healing process will take longer. In some cases, the infection may spread to other areas of the body, causing further complications.

How to Treat Bed Sores

Bedsore prevention and treatment are key to stopping pressure sore progression. You’ll need to incorporate a variety of treatment options and preventative methods to stop bedsore formation and progression.

A few of the most important forms of treatment are:

  1. Alternating pressure mattresses. Pressure mattresses will alternate the pressure of the bed. What this does is alleviate the pressure on one particular area of the skin. Advanced beds are available for when a person hits stage 3 or 4 in their bedsore progression. But in most cases, an alternating pressure mattress will relieve the pressure, allowing for the natural healing process to occur. Alternating pressure mattresses can also be used initially to reduce the risk of a bedsore developing.
  2. Moving the patient. Medical staff can move the person every 2 hours in a bed to relieve pressure. A person that is in a wheelchair will need to be moved every 15 minutes or so. There are other cut outs in wheelchairs that can remove the pressure area completely, such as a cut out near the person’s tailbone.
  3. Daily inspections. A daily inspection of the patient can help identify the sore and allows a person to treat the sore promptly. Medical professionals will also want to keep the patient’s skin dry and healthy.

Exercises that help improve circulation are also a great choice. The goal is to improve the person’s circulation

Patients that are able to identify their own bed sores or discomfort will want to bring the issue to the attention of medical workers. The goal is to be able to reduce the damage that has occurred and stop the stages of the bed sore from progressing further.

Treatment, when a bed sore is already present, will vary, depending on the severity of the sore.

The basic treatment options include:

  • Removing the pressure from the sore to reduce further damage. Foam pads, alternating pressure beds and pillow placement can be used to reduce pressure.
  • Wounds should be cleaned properly. Minor wounds may only need soap and water. Advanced sores will need to be cleaned with solution and a dressing put on the area.
  • Dead skin must be removed so that the healing process can take place.
  • Dressings can be applied to enhance the healing process and help prevent infection.
  • Oral or topical antibiotics will need to be incorporated to help prevent and treat infection.

If caught early enough, it may be possible to treat the pressure sore in stage 1, where relieving the pressure may be enough to allow healing. The second stage may also allow for healing to occur, so at-home treatment is possible.

When the pressure sore is in the latter two stages, this will require intervention from a doctor.

Surgery may be required in these stages, and this will include removing skin from another area of the body to fill in the area where the sore is present. The surgery will also include cleaning out the area, preventing further infection and reducing potential fluid loss.

Muscle, skin or tissue may be used from other areas of the person’s body to cover the wound. Affected bone will also be cushioned thanks to the surgical procedure.

Prevention methods are best to incorporate rather than wait for a bed sore to progress to the fourth stage where surgery is required.

About the author

Tim Brewer

Tim is a professional caregiver who has helped hundreds of seniors gain back their freedom and independence. He has been actively helping the senior community for 20+ years.

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