Stage I and II bedsores usually heal within several weeks to months with conservative care of the wound and ongoing, appropriate general care. Stage III and IV bedsores are more difficult to treat.
Addressing the many aspects of wound care usually requires a multidisciplinary approach. Members of your care team may include:
- A primary care physician who oversees the treatment plan
- A physician specializing in wound care
- Nurses or medical assistants who provide both care and education for managing wounds
- A social worker who helps you or your family access appropriate resources and addresses emotional concerns related to long-term recovery
- A physical therapist who helps with improving mobility
- A dietitian who monitors your nutritional needs and recommends an appropriate diet
- A neurosurgeon, orthopedic surgeon or plastic surgeon, depending on whether you need surgery and what type
The first step in treating a bedsore is reducing the pressure that caused it. Strategies include the following:
Repositioning. If you have a pressure sore, you need to be repositioned regularly and placed in correct positions. If you use a wheelchair, try shifting your weight every 15 minutes or so. Ask for help with repositioning every hour. If you're confined to a bed, change positions every two hours.
If you have enough upper body strength, try repositioning yourself using a device such as a trapeze bar. Caregivers can use bed linens to help lift and reposition you. This can reduce friction and shearing.
- Using support surfaces. Use a mattress, bed and special cushions that help you lie in an appropriate position, relieve pressure on any sores and protect vulnerable skin. If you are in a wheelchair, use a cushion. Styles include foam, air filled and water filled. Select one that suits your condition, body type and mobility.
Cleaning and dressing wounds
Care that helps with healing of the wound includes the following:
- Cleaning. It's essential to keep wounds clean to prevent infection. If the affected skin is not broken (a stage I wound), gently wash it with water and mild soap and pat dry. Clean open sores with a saltwater (saline) solution each time the dressing is changed.
Applying dressings. A dressing promotes healing by keeping a wound moist, creating a barrier against infection and keeping the surrounding skin dry. Dressing choices include films, gauzes, gels, foams and treated coverings. A combination of dressings may be used.
Your doctor selects a dressing based on a number of factors, such as the size and severity of the wound, the amount of discharge, and the ease of placing and removing the dressing.
Removing damaged tissue
To heal properly, wounds need to be free of damaged, dead or infected tissue. Removing this tissue (debridement) is accomplished with a number of methods, depending on the severity of the wound, your overall condition and the treatment goals.
- Surgical debridement involves cutting away dead tissue.
- Mechanical debridement loosens and removes wound debris. This may be done with a pressurized irrigation device, low-frequency mist ultrasound or specialized dressings.
- Autolytic debridement enhances the body's natural process of using enzymes to break down dead tissue. This method may be used on smaller, uninfected wounds and involves special dressings to keep the wound moist and clean.
- Enzymatic debridement involves applying chemical enzymes and appropriate dressings to break down dead tissue.
Other interventions that may be used are:
- Pain management. Pressure ulcers can be painful. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs — such as ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil, others) and naproxen (Aleve, others) — may reduce pain. These may be very helpful before or after repositioning, debridement procedures and dressing changes. Topical pain medications also may be used during debridement and dressing changes.
- Antibiotics. Infected pressure sores that aren't responding to other interventions may be treated with topical or oral antibiotics.
- A healthy diet. To promote wound healing, your doctor or dietitian may recommend an increase in calories and fluids, a high-protein diet, and an increase in foods rich in vitamins and minerals. You may be advised to take dietary supplements, such as vitamin C and zinc.
- Management of incontinence. Urinary or bowel incontinence may cause excess moisture and bacteria on the skin, increasing the risk of infection. Managing incontinence may help improve healing. Strategies include frequently scheduled help with urinating, frequent diaper changes, protective lotions on healthy skin, and urinary catheters or rectal tubes.
- Muscle spasm relief. Spasm-related friction or shearing can cause or worsen bedsores. Muscle relaxants — such as diazepam (Valium), tizanidine (Zanaflex), dantrolene (Dantrium) and baclofen (Gablofen, Lioresal) — may inhibit muscle spasms and help sores heal.
- Negative pressure therapy (vacuum-assisted closure, or VAC). This therapy uses a device that applies suction to a clean wound. It may help healing in some types of pressure sores.
A pressure sore that fails to heal may require surgery. The goals of surgery include improving the hygiene and appearance of the sore, preventing or treating infection, reducing fluid loss through the wound, and lowering the risk of cancer.
If you need surgery, the type of procedure depends mainly on the location of the wound and whether it has scar tissue from a previous operation. In general, most pressure sores are repaired using a pad of your muscle, skin or other tissue to cover the wound and cushion the affected bone (flap reconstruction).
Dec. 13, 2014
- Pressure ulcers. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec10/ch126/ch126a.html. Accessed Nov. 12, 2013.
- Berlowitz D. Treatment of pressure ulcers. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 12, 2013.
- Gestring M. Negative pressure wound therapy. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 12, 2013.
- AskMayoExpert. Pressure ulcer. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
- Ferri FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2014: 5 Books in 1. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2014. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 12, 2013.
- How to manage pressure ulcers. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
- Berlowitz D. Prevention of pressure ulcers. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 13, 2013.
- Tleyjeh I, et al. Infectious complications of pressure ulcers. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 13, 2013.
- Lebwohl MG, et al. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 13, 2013.
- Neligan P. Plastic Surgery. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2013. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 13, 2013.
- Gupta S, et al. Optimal use of negative pressure wound therapy in treating pressure ulcers. International Wound Journal. 2012;9(suppl 1):8.
- Lim JL, et al. Epidemiology and risk factors for cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 15, 2013.
- Abrams GM, et al. Chronic complications of spinal cord injury. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
- Mattison M, et al. Hospital management of older adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
- Pressure ulcer prevention. Rockville, Md.: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. http://www.guideline.gov/content.aspx?id=43935&search=trapeze#Section420. Accessed Nov. 18, 2013.
- AskMayoExpert. Sepsis, severe sepsis and septic shock. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
- AskMayoExpert. Skin and soft tissue infections. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2013.
- Gibson LE (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Nov. 21, 2013.