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What are pressure ulcers, and why do they happen?

Individuals confined to their beds or with limited mobility are particularly susceptible to pressure ulcers, commonly known as “bedsores.” This type of skin injury occurs because of prolonged pressure on the skin and exposure to moisture, friction and skin pulling. In Maryland, medical professionals categorize bedsores into four grades, with grades three and four indicating a greater risk of severe and potentially fatal infections.

How common are pressure ulcers?

Approximately 2.5 million Americans are estimated to suffer from pressure ulcers each year. Bedsores have the potential to form in various locations on the body. For instance, individuals undergoing oxygen therapy may experience bedsores on their ears, the bridge of their nose, or the back of their head. Sometimes, bedsores can even develop inside the mouth if someone uses ill-fitting dentures or mechanical ventilation. Nursing home bedsores are most likely to develop on areas of the body where the skin is close to the bone, such as the hip, ankle, elbow, and tailbone.

The stages of bedsores

In evaluating the severity of a pressure ulcer, doctors use a staging system. The skin appears red or pink at stage I, and there is no open wound yet. However, it may be difficult to detect early changes in skin color in people with darker skin. The affected skin may have varying texture sensations, such as feeling cool, warm, soft, or firmer than usual, along with tenderness.

As the pressure ulcer progresses to stage II, a shallow wound may appear, manifesting as blisters, skin loss, or abrasions. At stage III, the ulcer has penetrated the fatty layer of the skin. Once the ulcer reaches stage IV, all three layers of the skin are damaged, and the bones, muscles, and tendons may become exposed.

Stage III and IV pressure ulcers pose serious health risks, such as bacterial infections and sepsis that may result in amputations. Bedsores contribute to over 24,000 deaths annually. Fortunately, medical professionals and caregivers can prevent bedsores by regularly checking their patients or loved ones for any signs. Early detection of bedsores often leads to successful healing and positive outcomes.