What Are Pressure Ulcers?

Pressure ulcers, also sometimes known as bedsores or pressure sores, are areas of damaged skin and tissue that develop when sustained pressure – usually from lying in a bed or sitting in a wheelchair – cuts off circulation to vulnerable parts of your body. They are caused when the affected area of skin is placed under too much pressure.

Pressure ulcers can range in severity from patches of discoloured skin to open wounds that expose the underlying bone or muscle.

How pressure ulcers develop

Pressure ulcers develop when a large amount of pressure is applied to an area of skin over a short period of time. Or, they can occur when less force is applied but over a longer period of time.

The extra pressure disrupts the flow of blood through the skin. Without a blood supply, the affected area of skin becomes starved of oxygen and nutrients. It begins to break down, leading to the formation of an ulcer. Once an ulcer has developed, it can become infected by bacteria.

Healthy people with normal mobility do not develop pressure ulcers as their body automatically makes hundreds of regular movements that prevent pressure building up on any part of their body. For example, while you are asleep you may think you are lying still, but you may shift position up to 20 times a night.

The risk factors for pressure ulcers can be divided into one of two categories:

  • intrinsic risk factors – you have an underlying health condition or other factor that makes you more vulnerable to developing pressure ulcers
  • extrinsic risk factors – factors in your immediate environment that put you at risk of developing pressure ulcers

In some cases, a person may have both intrinsic and extrinsic risk factors.

Related Information

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