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What Causes Decubitus Ulcers?

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 12/31/2010

Decubitus ulcers, also known as pressure ulcers, occur in those who are unable to move for extended periods of time. Learn what causes decubitus ulcers so you can take steps to prevent them.

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    What Causes Decubitus Ulcers?

    The main cause of decubitus ulcers is consistent pressure on the same area of the skin. This occurs for several reasons. In those who have been bed-ridden for a long period of time, the skin can break down from the constant pressure. Those with neurological and blood vessel diseases have an increased risk for this breakdown in skin tissue. Use of a wheelchair or a bedside chair also increases the risk for these ulcers, as the user remains in the same position for long periods of time.

    No discussion of what causes decubitus ulcers would be complete without a discussion of the other risk factors for this condition. Those who have urinary incontinence or bowel incontinence have a greater risk for decubitus ulcers because of the moisture caused by incontinence. This moisture makes it easier for the skin to break down. Malnourishment may also lead to this type of ulcer because the patient does not get enough nutrients to build and maintain healthy skin tissue.

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    Symptoms

    The symptoms of decubitus ulcers depend on the stage of the ulcer. Stage I ulcers consist of a reddened area of the skin. This is an early warning that a pressure ulcer is going to develop without proper care and intervention. A stage II ulcer consists of an open sore or blistered skin with red or irritated edges. As skin breakdown worsens, the wound turns into a stage III decubitus ulcer. This means that it looks like a crater and that the tissue below the skin is also damaged. Stage IV ulcers result in damage to the muscles, bones, joints or tendons. This is the most serious form of a decubitus ulcer.

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    Prevention

    Those with a high risk of pressure sores should check their skin each day. This includes people with diabetes, bladder and bowel incontinence and vascular diseases that reduce blood flow to the skin. When you check your skin, look for reddened areas, sores, blisters, craters and cracks. To prevent ulcers, make sure you relieve pressure by changing position at least every two hours. If you need help changing position, you may need to ask a family member or caregiver for help. You should also use pillows, pads and other items that reduce the pressure on your skin.

    Eating healthy foods and drinking enough water will help your body maintain its defenses against pressure ulcers. You should also get some type of exercise each day to relieve the pressure on your skin. Those who have incontinence should use good hygiene practices and maintain clean skin. If you have difficulty doing this, your doctor may recommend a cream or ointment to protect the skin around the genitals.

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    Ulcer Treatment

    If you identify a new pressure sore, you need to take several steps to prevent it from progressing to the next stage. Use foam cushions or pillows to reduce the pressure on your skin. Improve your diet to speed the healing process. Use good hygiene practices to prevent further damage to the skin. If you find an ulcer that is at stage II or above, alert your doctor or nurse. Your health care provider may recommend the use of powders, rinses and other products to help keep the ulcer clean and free of dead tissue.

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    References

    Drugs.com: Bedsores (Decubitus Ulcers)

    MedlinePlus: Pressure Ulcer

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