What are bedsores?

Bedsores (or pressure sores, pressure areas or pressure ulcers) are skin ulcers that are caused by prolonged pressure on the skin.

Bedsores usually affect people who cannot move by themselves or change positions as a result of severe illness or neurological problems (for example, people with spinal cord injuries). They can also affect people with diabetes or medical conditions affecting circulation. Advancing age, malnutrition and incontinence are additional risk factors for developing bedsores.

In the early stages, pressure sores develop as red and painful areas on the skin and may appear to be mild. Unless the pressure is minimised, the skin begins to break down and the sores tend to grow, deepen and are at risk of becoming infected. Bedsores usually occur over bony prominences such as the hips, shoulders, elbows, tailbone or heels.

Special care must be taken to prevent bedsores from developing as they are very slow to heal and also have a significant impact upon a person's quality of life.

What causes bedsores?

Continuous pressure on certain areas of the body impairs blood circulation and results in the deterioration of the skin and underlying tissues. A moving pressure on the skin such as when a person slides up and down in bed or if the bedclothes are pulled out from under them can cause friction that can result in bedsores. Poor nutrition can also be a factor in the development and healing of pressure ulcers.

What your doctor can do for you

  • Prescribe medication, including creams for the skin and dressings, and give advice on proper treatment.
  • Recommend professional assistance for treating and preventing bedsores.

Preventing bedsores

  • Keep the skin clean and dry.
  • Smooth out bed sheets and tuck them tightly, leaving no creases.
  • Change position regularly. People who cannot move on their own will need help from a caregiver. Special slide sheets and materials that decrease friction forces on the skin are available.
  • Thorough cleansing of the skin is needed to remove perspiration, urine and faeces to prevent the breakdown of the skin and to remove bacteria that may cause bedsores.
  • Support prominent bones with cushions filled with foam, gel, air or water.
  • Ensure adequate nutrition and hydration — a healthy diet can help prevent skin breakdown.

Last Reviewed: 14/11/2012

myDr. Adapted from original material sourced from MediMedia.



References

1. Pressure ulcer (revised October 2011). In: eTG complete. Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited; 2012 Jul. http://online.tg.org.au/complete/ (accessed Nov 2012). 2. MayoClinic.com. Bed sores (pressure sores) (updated 19 March 2011). http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bedsores/DS00570 (accessed Nov 2012).