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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

Pressure Sores - Treatment Overview

Treatment focuses on preventing pressure sores from getting worse and on restoring healthy skin.

Steps to treat pressure sores include:

  • Managing the tissue load. Tissue load includes pressure, shear (such as when you slide down in a chair and your skin pulls and folds), and friction (rubbing). All of these forces can damage your skin and deeper tissues.
  • Keeping the sore area clean and covered, and not letting it dry out.
  • Keeping healthy tissue around the sore clean and protecting it from moisture.
  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Avoiding smoking. Smoking dries out the skin and reduces blood supply to the skin, so it can help pressure sores form and also slow the healing process.

Early treatment can help prevent damage from pressure sorescamera.gif. After a sore progresses to a more serious stagecamera.gif, it becomes hard to treat and can lead to complications.

Most stage 1 and stage 2 pressure sores will heal within several weeks with proper treatment. Stage 3 and 4 pressure sores can take months or even years to heal. Even though progress is slow, continued care and treatment can prevent complications such as further tissue damage, infection, and pain.

Pressure sores occur most frequently in people who are confined to beds or chairs. In many cases, a person with a pressure sore also has one or more medical conditions that may affect treatment and healing. These conditions include diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease.

Manage tissue load

Relieving and spreading out pressure is the most important part of preventing and treating pressure sores. When pressure is in one spot for long periods of time, the blood flow to that area is decreased. This damages or kills the cells, and creates a sore. Pressure can be relieved and spread in several ways. Often a combination of these is best. To relieve and spread pressure:

  • Use special support surfaces. There are mattresses, bed covers, and chair cushions designed to help reduce and spread pressure. Other products, such as doughnut-type devices, may actually cause pressure sores. So talk with your doctor about the support surfaces and pressure-relieving products that would be best for you.
  • Change positions at least every 2 hours if you are confined to a bed, or as often as every 15 minutes if you are in a wheelchair. A person who can't easily move themselves or who does not have normal feeling in their body or mental awareness to tell them when to change positions is at risk of pressure sores. These people need a regular schedule for position changes and usually need help being turned or repositioned.
  • Avoid sliding, slipping, or slumping, or being in positions that put pressure directly on an existing pressure sore. Try to keep the head of a bed, a recliner chair, or a reclining wheelchair raised no more than 30 degrees. Recliner chairs are likely to allow slipping. They should not be used in place of a bed.
  • Check the person's skin from head to toe daily, or as often as your doctor recommends. Watch for pressure from many sources, such as:
    • Body parts or skin folds, especially in people who are overweight or obese. For example, the knees or ankles of a person who spends long periods in bed can rub together and cause sores. Work with your doctor to be sure there is either no pressure or that there is good padding between the skin and other surfaces.
    • Chair arms, parts of wheelchairs, braces, or other places where people may rest their elbows or other body parts.
    • Oxygen masks or oxygen tubing. Tubing or straps that rest on the nose or ears may cause pressure injuries.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 22, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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