Five things you need to know about pressure injuries
November 15, 2018
By Katrina Lingrell, Senior advisor, digital communications, Covenant Health
Many people refer to them as bedsores, and they are more serious than many of us realize.
Pressure injuries are caused by unrelieved pressure and often occur when a person is sitting or lying down for a long time. And that means a lot of people are at risk if they have health conditions that leave them in either of those positions for a long period of time.
While they are under-recognized, pressure injuries cause significant problems for the people affected by them. “They are a huge burden for people in terms of negative quality of life,” says Marlene Varga, Pressure Injury Prevention Coordinator. “They are often painful, can cause other complications and tend to restrict people from participating in activities.”
But the good news is most pressure injuries are preventable.
What are the top risk factors for a pressure injury?
- Age: The structural changes that occur in our skin as we age can weaken it. People over 65 may also have other health conditions that could put them at risk.
- Reduced sensation: Our bodies tell us when it’s time to shift our weight or move by making us uncomfortable. But for people with conditions that limit sensation, such as diabetes or spinal cord injuries, it can be easy to miss the body’s warning signs.
- Pain medication: Pain medications can also limit sensory perception and prevent a person from feeling the early warning signs of a pressure injury.
- Limited mobility: “This is the number one trigger for pressure injuries,” Marlene says. “If you don’t move as much as you have in the past, that’s the first red flag.” Decreased mobility could mean someone is lying or sitting for long periods of time.
- Social isolation: People who don’t have a lot of social support in the community may be at higher risk of developing pressure injuries if there is no one around to check on them or encourage them to move.
- Poor nutrition and dehydration: Without proper nutrition and water intake, the skin can become weak and may heal less quickly.
They can be dangerous
A pressure injury isn’t just uncomfortable—it can be dangerous.
“They can be extremely serious because a lot of people can develop complications, including infections,” Marlene says. “They tend to be chronic and hard to heal.”
If the wound becomes infected, it can spread throughout the body and even go into the bone and bloodstream, which can be life-threatening.
“A lot of people have pressure injuries that don’t heal quickly. They live with these injuries for years,” says Marlene. “These injuries sometimes never heal.” And this can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life.
The most critical step is to relieve pressure from the affected area. A healthcare provider can make some suggestions that work best, such as a better mattress, and may apply a dressing to the wound to keep it clean.
Don’t wait to seek medical attention
If you or your loved one notice a pressure injury or suspect one may be developing, it’s important to see a healthcare provider right away.
“Even something small in the skin can turn big and bad quickly,” Marlene says. “Some people get them very quickly, even within hours."
Prevention and awareness are key
“Pressure injuries are primarily preventable,” Marlene says. “The challenge is once we see visual signs of redness, it’s often too late. Early assessment and intervention are key.”
Follow SKIN to prevent pressure injuries
- Check high-risk areas, such as the buttocks. hips, heels, ankles, elbows, spine and back of the head.
- Warning signs include redness, blisters and purple or bruise-like areas.
- As a general rule, people should shift positions every two hours if lying down, or every 30 minutes if they are sitting.
- Incontinence can inflame and weaken the skin. Keep the skin as clean and dry as possible and use a barrier ointment.
Nutrition & hydration
- Eat well and stay hydrated to keep the skin strong and facilitate healing. See a registered dietitian if you need guidance.