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Pressure ulcer

Written by Healthwords's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 25.04.2023 | 2 min read

Pressure ulcers are also known as bed sores. They occur due to prolonged pressure on a certain area of the body causing injury or damage to the skin and underlying tissue. They often affect bony areas which have thin layers of tissue overlying them such as the lower spine, heels, hips or elbows. But they can develop anywhere.

As the chances of developing a pressure sore increase the longer the pressure is applied, so the highest risk comes to those confined to a bed or chair for long periods.

Early signs of a pressure ulcer developing are when the area starts to become pink and painful. Later the skin may start to become hardened or warm. If a pressure ulcer is not taken care of at this stage, it can then develop into a break in the skin. Over time this can lead to a wound or blister, that begins to extend into the deeper tissues and finally the muscle. At this stage, it is very painful.

How do I prevent a pressure ulcer?

Ensure that you eat a balanced and nutritious diet, which will ensure that you are not dehydrated or nutritionally deplete and your skin is in the best condition to prevent an ulcer from developing. Keep skin clean and dry, and apply moisturiser as necessary, to keep it in good condition.

If you are confined for long periods of time to a chair or bed, it’s important to try and change your position regularly. This might be turning a different angle in bed, and alternating the areas where pressure is applied. If you are not able to do this yourself, you may need to get someone to help.

Provide cushioned support to certain areas which may be at risk, for example, bony points.

Ensure that your skin is checked regularly for any early signs of a pressure ulcer developing.

It is also important to stop smoking, as smoking affects many aspects of wound healing.

Pharmacist recommended products

When should I see my doctor?

If you are under constant care, such as a care home or hospital, they should be regularly monitoring for the development of any pressure ulcers. If you or someone else notices areas of concern, it’s important to tell your health professionals straight away, as it’s not usually something that gets better with time.

Even with constant monitoring and good care, pressure ulcers can still develop and that can be because in some people their skin breaks down very quickly.

How are pressure ulcers treated?

Pressure ulcers can be managed at home if they are not very severe. This can be through dressings and creams, regular turning in your position and using support appliances such as mattresses and cushions to reduce the pressure.

If there is a significant breakdown in the tissue the wound may need to be cleaned and dead tissue removed, in order to aid better healing.

If the ulcer is very severe and has caused an infection, this may require antibiotics – either at home or in hospital, depending on how unwell you are.

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