Pressure ulcers develop when pressure prevents blood from flowing to tissue. This causes the skin to break down, resulting in a sore. They commonly form where your bones are close to your skin, such as your ankles, back, elbows, heels and hips. 

Pressure ulcers may be referred to as "bed sores." However, they can result from many causes. People who spend a lot of time in bed or in a wheelchair, such as in a nursing home or hospital, and are unable to change their position are at risk of developing pressure ulcers. Diseases that affect blood flow, such as diabetes and peripheral arterial disease, also increase the risk. Pressure ulcers can cause serious infections, which can be life- or limb-threatening in some cases. The Ohio State Limb Preservation Program offers optimal care that can help prevent the loss of a limb due to pressure ulcers or other wounds.

Prevent Pressure Ulcers

You can prevent pressure sores from developing by:

  • Taking care of your skin by keeping it clean, dry and using lotion to prevent drying out
  • Checking skin daily, particularly bony areas, for redness or temperature changes
  • Changing position every two hours in bed, or shifting weight every 15 minutes if you’re in a wheelchair
  • Keeping clothes and bed sheets dry
  • Using pillows and products that relieve pressure

Healing Pressure Ulcers

Pressure ulcers have a variety of treatments, depending on the severity of the sore. Advanced sores are slow to heal, so it’s important to notify your Ohio State doctor immediately to avoid complications. Treatments may include:

  • Dressings – Your doctor or nurse will choose the right dressing for the pressure ulcer and will give you instructions for changing the dressing.
  • Medicine – If your pressure ulcer isn’t healing properly, your doctor may apply medicine directly to the ulcer or may prescribe antibiotics.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy – In some cases, your doctor may use this painless therapy to enhance healing.
  • Surgery – Depending on the severity of the sore, your doctor may perform minor surgery to remove dead skin and allow the healthy skin to heal. In some cases, your doctor may perform reconstructive surgery to repair the area, including microsurgery, skin grafts and other advanced procedures.

If you notice signs of infection — such as pain, red skin around the sore, a bad smell, and increased yellow or green pus — tell the doctor or nurse immediately.

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s wound care specialists will instruct you on how to care for your sore and can offer recommendations for products that can reduce pressure and prevent sores from occurring.

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