Bedsores: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

We’ve all heard of bedsores (also known as pressure ulcers,) but how many of us know what they are, what causes them, what they look like, or how to treat them?

In this article, we’ll try to answer all of those questions and more.

Causes of Bedsores

Bedsores are primarily caused when the body’s blood supply is cut off from a portion of skin for more than 2 or three hours. This is according to the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Health Encylopedia. According to their Health Encyclopedia, 2 to 3 hours is enough time for the skin to begin dying. As the skin begins to die it becomes a stage 1 bedsore. We’ll go over the specific stages and what they look like later, but for now, a stage 1 bed sore is when the skin begins to turn red. If the bedsore is left untreated, it will get progressively worse as it goes through all of the stages.

Bedsores are primarily caused when the body’s blood supply is cut off from a portion of skin for more than 2 or three hours

The US National Library of Medicine’s National Institutes of Health gets a little more in-depth into the causes of bedsores. According to the NCBI, this aforementioned damage is usually caused by a distortion or deformation of the skin. These distortions and deformations are usually caused by some sort of external pressure that’s applied to the skin. This also explains why so many people who are overweight, pregnant, or bed-bound develop bedsores. The constant lying around in a chair or in a bed smooshes and distorts the skin, cutting off its oxygen.

The NCIB says that bedsores are normally created by either pressure or shear. Pressure is anything similar to our chair example. If there’s constant pressure on one area of the body, then there’s a higher likelihood that bed sores or pressure sores will develop.

A shear, on the other hand, is when two surfaces move in the opposite direction or one another. Examples of shears include sliding down an elevated bed or the tailbone moving down while excess skin is pushed up. Shearing can also create bedsores.

No matter your specific reason is for developing bedsores, you should seek immediate, medical attention if you start noticing the signs and symptoms of bedsores. Bedsores can become quite painful and dangerous if they are left untreated. Also, they are so much easier to treat if you catch them early.

So be sure to look out for bedsore symptoms, especially if you’re at risk for bedsores.

Symptoms Of Bedsores

Before we talk about the symptoms of bedsores, let’s talk about the risk factors which make patients more likely to develop them.

According to the Mayo Clinic, bedsore risk factors include:

Immobility - There’s a variety of reasons why someone may be immobile. Poor health, injuries, and a sedentary lifestyle can all explain at least some degree of immobility. The more one lies around the more constant pressure they’re putting on parts of their body. The more constant pressure there is, the more likely a patient will develop bedsores.

Poor nutrition - The body needs vitamins, minerals, protein, and water to survive. Without these things, it cannot function optimally. This leads to a faster breakdown of body tissues and a slower healing process. The larger the gap is between these two factors, the more likely a patient will eventually develop bedsores.

Lack of sensory perception - Certain injuries can cause a loss of feeling or numbness. The less a person can feel, the less likely they are to move or adjust often enough to prevent oxygen from getting cut off to areas of skin for extended periods of time. The less one is purposefully moving due to discomfort or inability to move, the more likely they will develop bedsores. The most common examples of these symptoms include spinal injuries and neuropathy.

Medical conditions that affect blood flow - Health conditions like diabetes and vascular disease can all affect the patient's blood flow. This disrupts the body’s natural healing process which increases their likelihood to develop bedsores.

If you have any of these risk factors, it just means that you’ll have to be more vigilant and look out for the symptoms of bedsores.

Symptoms of bedsores include

Symptoms of bedsores include:

  • Unusual changes in skin color
  • Unusual changes in skin texture
  • Swelling
  • Pus drainage
  • Skin warmth or coolness
  • Tender area

These symptoms will usually appear on the head, shoulder blades, hips, lower back, tailbone, heels, ankles, or behind the knees. This is because most people who develop pressure ulcers are immobile and these are the body parts that experience the most pressure when you are laying down or sitting for a long time.

These symptoms will continue to get worse and advance from stage 1 pressure ulcers to stage 4 pressure ulcers, which are the most severe bedsores you can experience. Johns Hopkins explains the stages of bedsores, at one end you have stage one bedsores which are red spots on the skin that are warm to the touch, on the other end of the spectrum you have stage 4 bedsores which include severely damaged muscle, tendon, bone, and joint damage. Stages 2 and 3 are along this spectrum.

Bedsore Treatment Options

MedlinePlus, a US National Library of Medicine property, outlines some different methods to treat pressure sores. For stage 1 bedsores, they suggest washing the area with mild soap and water and using a cream or ointment to create a moisture barrier. For stage 2 bedsores, they suggest cleaning the area with salt water and gently removing loose, dead tissue. For stage 3 and 4 sores, MedlinePlus recommends that you seek medical attention from a doctor or dermatologist.

Stages of Bedsores

Harvard Health Publishing, a health publication from Harvard Medical school adds some of the following suggestions to those mentioned by MedlinePlus.

  • If immobile, make sure someone frequently repositions you
  • If immobile, ask for extra pillows
  • If immobile, keep heels off of the bed or stretcher
  • Keep skin moist
  • Use foam or Australian sheepskin overlays

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms we’ve mentioned, please seek immediate treatment. According to the Mayo Clinic, not only can bedsores be painful on their own, but they can make you susceptible to other medical conditions like cellulitis, bone and joint infections, cancer, and sepsis.

Don’t Let Your Bedsores Get Out Of Control

There is no reason to let your bedsores get out of control. Patients can normally recognize their symptoms early on in the process. Especially when they know their personal risk factors.

Watch out for bedsores and treat them immediately if you ever develop them. You’ll be grateful you did.