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A pressure sore is an injury to the skin caused by constant pressure. This often occurs when a person lies in bed or sits in a chair for a long time. Pressure reduces blood supply to the skin. Over time, this can
cause the skin to break down and form an open sore.
Pressure sores are also called bed sores or pressure ulcers.
Pressure sores can range from red areas on the surface
of the skin to severe tissue damage that goes deep into muscle and bone. They usually form over
bony areas such as the hips, lower back, elbows, and heels. They may also occur in places where the skin folds over itself or where medical equipment puts pressure on the skin, such as where oxygen tubing presses on the ears or cheeks.
Pressure sores can be hard to treat and slow to heal. If they don't heal properly, they can lead to problems such as skin infection or bone infection.
If you or someone you care for is not able to move much, it's important to prevent sores and to check the skin every day. If you think a pressure sore is forming, take steps to treat it, and talk to your doctor or nurse about what more you can do.
Things that cause
pressure sores include:
Things that make a person more likely to get pressure sores include:
A doctor can diagnose a pressure sore by examining it.
In some cases, a doctor may want to do tests such as:
Treatment focuses on
preventing a sore from getting worse and on making the skin healthy again.
These steps can help a pressure sore heal:
To promote healing, your doctor may remove dead tissue from the wound. Bacteria can grow in dead tissue and cause infection. If you get an infection, you may need antibiotics.
Severe pressure sores may be treated with
surgery. For example, a skin graft may be done to help new skin grow at the site of a sore.
There are many things you can do to help prevent pressure sores if you're at risk. It's also important to use these steps to help an existing sore heal. If you can't do them yourself, ask a family member or friend for help.
Learning about pressure sores:
The website FamilyDoctor.org is sponsored by the American Academy of Family Physicians. It offers information on adult and child health conditions and healthy living. There are topics on medicines, doctor visits, physical and mental health issues, parenting, and more.
Other Works Consulted
Baranoski S, et al. (2012). Wound treatment options. In S Baranoski, EA Ayello, eds., Wound Care Essentials: Practice Principles, 3rd ed., pp. 181–239. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel and National Pressure Ulcer
Advisory Panel (2009). Prevention and Treatment of Pressure Ulcers: Quick Reference
Guide. Washington DC: National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel.
Ho CH, Bogie K (2010). Pressure ulcers. In WR Frontera et
al., eds., DeLisa's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Principles and Practice, 5th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1393–1409. Philadelphia: Lippincott
Williams and Wilkins.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy for refractory wounds (2010). Medical Letter on Drugs and Therapeutics, 52(1333): 19–20.
Powers JG, et al. (2012). Decubitus (pressure)
ulcers. In LA Goldsmith et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 8th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1121–1129. New York:
Ratliff CR, et al. (2010). Guideline for Prevention and Management of Pressure Ulcers. Mount Laurel, NJ: Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society.
Reddy M (2011). Pressure ulcers, search
date June 2010. BMJ Clinical Evidence. Available online:
Reddy M, et al. (2006). Preventing pressure ulcers: A
systematic review. JAMA, 296(8): 974–984.
Reddy M, et al. (2008). Treatment of pressure ulcers: A systematic review. JAMA, 300(22): 2647–2662.
July 24, 2013
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Margaret Doucette, DO - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Wound Care, Hyperbaric Medicine
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