Identifying Medical Conditions: Pressure Sores

You may know pressure sores by their more common name: bed sores. Bedsore occurs when you lie or sit in one position too long and the weight of your body against the surface of the bed or chair cuts off blood supply. You might get them if you’re on bed rest or in a wheelchair.

Pressure sores can cause serious infections, some of which can be life-threatening. They are usually associated with someone who is bed-ridden but they frequently occur when the person does not move around much and spends long periods sitting or lying in one position – perhaps with their back against a cushion or feet resting on a foot-stool. Different parts of the body can be affected:

·         The back of arms or legs where they rest against the chair in which the person sits

·          Heels and ankles

·          Buttocks or lower back

·          Sides of the head, ears

·          Shoulder blades.

Suspect and look for a pressure sore if the person complains of pain in one area.

The person may sit in the same chair in one position for long periods. They should shift body position every ten or fifteen minutes. People at increased risk are those with:

·         Mobility problems – perhaps due to painful arthritis they like to stay in one position

·         A poor diet – they often have insufficient fluid in the body or difficulty swallowing food

·         Health conditions such as type 1 or type 2 diabetes, heart or kidney failure, or incontinence.   

Warning signs that pressure sores are developing include:

·         Changes in the color of the skin

·         Swelling

·         An area of skin that feels cooler or warmer to the touch than other areas

·         Tender areas


If found early, there’s a good chance these sores will heal in a few days, with little fuss or pain. Without treatment, they can get worse.

You’ll know they’re better when the sore gets smaller and pink tissue shows up along the sides.

You may notice a red area on your skin. If you have darker skin, the discolored area may be harder to see. The spot doesn’t get lighter when you press on it, or even 10 to 30 minutes after you stop pressing. This means less blood is getting to the area.


What to do

Prevent sores by encouraging your loved one to move around more – perhaps use different chairs to sit in at different times. Keep skin clean and dry – especially important if the person experiences any incontinence. If you suspect a sore is developing, make sure the person changes position to relieve pressure on that area. If you don’t see improvement within a couple of days contact their doctor. Immediate medical care is needed if there are any signs of infection such as puss discharge from a sore, increased redness, warmth or swelling around the affected area.  

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