Your skin is a delicate organ: understanding pressure ulcers
Pressure ulcers: what are they?
Did you know that the skin is our largest organ? Because of this, there are many things that can damage or weaken the skin. Skin can become damaged when it gets trapped between your bones and another surface, like a bed or a chair. This type of wound is a pressure ulcer (bed sore or decubutis ulcer). Most of the time these wounds heal with little or no help, but there are some cases that the wound needs a little help to allow Mother Nature to do its job.
How do pressure ulcers (bed sores) happen?
Pressure ulcers happen when the pressure from the bone traps the skin and stops blood (nutrients and oxygen) from flowing to the area. This causes the skin to turn into an open wound. This can happen very fast, sometimes in less than two hours or from repeated injury. A poor diet or nutrition deficiency may make it more likely that someone will develop a pressure ulcer. Also, skin that is frequently wet from urine or stool may be more at risk for a pressure ulcer.
Who can get a pressure ulcer?
Anyone can develop a pressure ulcer, but they are more likely to happen during post-surgery or illness with prolonged sitting or lying in a bed. Anyone with ability to feel pain will automatically move around while sitting if they become uncomfortable, but for persons who have had surgery, pain or numbing agents can decrease movement and sensation. Additionally, people who use pain medication, have dementia, diabetes or spinal cord injuries, may not feel pain and may lie still for long periods of time.
How are pressure ulcers treated?
The treatment and healing time for a pressure ulcer depends on the how severe the wound is and where it is located on the body. In many cases, these wounds can take six months to a year to heal. This can be a very frustrating, sometimes painful process.
Can I prevent a pressure ulcer?
Yes! One way is to think of the skin as a paper towel. When a paper towel is wet it tears much easier than if it were dry. Creams such as Vaseline, zinc or Desitin can help protect the skin from this moisture by making a barrier. Put this cream on often. Do not scrub the skin clean in between applications.
Prevention is very important. Our focus as healthcare professionals is to prevent a pressure ulcer from the very beginning. We do this through education of the healthcare team, articles such as this, and education for our patients and their loved ones.
If you have questions or concerns about pressure ulcers, you can make an appointment with one of our local certified wound ostomy nurses by calling the Wound Healing Center. For more information about our patient-centered team approach to diagnose, treat and provide wound and ostomy care, please call 593-5777 or visit pbmc.org/woundcare.
The Wound Healing Center is a department of Pen Bay Medical Center and includes a team of certified ostomy and wound care nurses and a general surgeon who use a collaborative approach to diagnose, treat and heal complicated wounds.
Katy Genthner, RN, BS, CWOCN, is a certified wound, ostomy and continence nurse at Pen Bay's Wound Healing Center.