How are pressure ulcers managed?

Updated: Apr 24, 2020
  • Author: Brian J Daley, MD, MBA, FACS, FCCP, CNSC; Chief Editor: Zubin J Panthaki, MD, CM, FACS, FRCSC  more...
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Pressure ulcers often require the following steps:

  • Debridement: The ulcer often requires surgical excision, usually down to underlying bone. In the absence of erythema, edema, fluctuance, or drainage, clean dry eschar does not need to be debrided surgically but may be softened and allowed to separate using dressings (eg, colloids, hydrogels) that provide a moist environment to encourage autolysis.

  • Topical wound care: Weeks or months of daily dressing changes are required before the wound begins granulating and appears clean enough for myocutaneous flap closure.

  • Treatment of infection: Debridement is a clean, not sterile, procedure. Frequent debridements maintain superficial colonization at acceptable levels. Swab cultures are often meaningless because they reflect only surface colonization of local infection, which does not require antibiotic treatment. In general, systemic antibiotics are not useful unless signs of progressive infection, such as bacteremia, septicemia, progressive cellulitis, or intractable osteomyelitis, are present.

  • Control of chronic wound contamination: Chronic wound contamination because of fecal incontinence can be a vexing problem in typical bedridden patients, who tend to develop sacral and ischial pressure ulcers. These types of ulcers are depicted in the images below. Initial treatment is dietary management. Foods that thicken the stool include applesauce, bananas, boiled milk, bread, cheese, creamy peanut butter, grits, oat bran, oatmeal, pasta, pretzels, rice, tapioca, and yogurt. In rare cases, fecal diversion by means of colostomy is required.

    Image of advanced sacral pressure ulcer shows the Image of advanced sacral pressure ulcer shows the effects of pressure, shearing, and moisture.
    Sacral pressure ulcer before and after flap closur Sacral pressure ulcer before and after flap closure.
    Sacral ulcer. Sacral ulcer.
  • Positioning: Patients with pressure ulcers or those at risk for a pressure ulcer should be turned in bed every 2 hours. Patients who are immobile should not be positioned directly on the trochanters; foam wedges and pillows are useful to pad pressure points, to prevent direct contact between bony prominences, and to raise their heels off the bed surface. Pressure ulcers can also be induced by shear forces if patients slide down the bed; therefore, try to use the lowest degree of elevation of the head of the bed that the patient's medical conditions allow.

  • Use of support surfaces

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