Pressure sores (sometimes called pressure ulcers or bed sores) are areas on the skin and underlying tissues that have become damaged through a reduced blood supply. This usually occurs due to the constant pressure of sitting or lying in the same position.  They can lead to serious complications, so it’s essential to manage the risks.

Here’s a look at why pressure sores develop, how the risk can be managed, and how they can be treated. 

Who is at risk of developing a pressure sore?

Anyone can develop a pressure sore, but they most commonly occur in people who have restricted mobility and spend a lot of time sitting or lying down, and are unable to change their position without help. 

Other risk factors include being underweight and malnourished with thin, dry skin; having had a previous pressure sore; having difficulty feeling skin sensation or pain; having a recent serious illness or recovering from major surgery; and having broken or swollen skin. 

The sores usually form on bony areas of the body, such as the tailbone, hips, elbows, or heels. 

What are the symptoms of a pressure sore?

The symptoms of a pressure sore include discoloured patches of skin that remain the same colour when pressure is applied. On white skin, the sore will normally look red, and on black or brown skin it may look purple,or blue. The skin may feel warm to touch, and it can feel hard or spongy and be painful or itchy.

The sore may develop into an open wound. In the worst case scenario, this can become gradually deeper until it tears into the underlying layers of skin and muscle and down to the bone. The patient may be at risk of developing serious complications if the sore is left untreated, including gangrene and blood poisoning. 

How can the risk of developing a pressure sore be reduced?

In people who are being cared for at home, steps should be taken to prevent pressure sores developing. These include changing position regularly, checking daily for symptoms, eating healthy, avoiding smoking, and using special high-specification foam mattresses or cushions.

Patients who are being cared for in a residential or nursing home should have regular risk assessments carried out by healthcare professionals. Their care plan should include repositioning advice if they are deemed to be at risk.

How are pressure sores treated?

The pressure should be relieved by regularly changing positions and using medical grade foam mattresses. Creams and ointments can help to keep the skin protected. Open wounds should be dressed and cleaned. 

If the wound is infected, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics. If the patient has a high temperature or is in severe pain, immediate medical help should be sought. 

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