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HealthInfo Canterbury

Pressure injuries

Wharanga pēhanga

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Pressure injuries are sores or ulcers. They're sometimes called pressure sores or bedsores.

You can get these sores or ulcers if you can't move or change position. You can also get them if you can't feel the pressure on your skin. The pressure reduces or stops the blood supply to an area of skin, causing the tissue to break down. This results in a sore or ulcer.

Friction from sliding, wrinkled sheets or clothing can also cause pressure injuries or make the sore worse.

Equipment like oxygen nasal prongs, catheters, wheelchairs and splints can also cause pressure injuries. As can plaster casts. If you experience pain with any of these, contact your general practice team or the relevant hospital team.

Pressure injuries can be hard to treat and can have serious complications. Some of them just need minor nursing care but serious pressure ulcers can be painful and isolating. They can prevent you enjoying life and can be life-threatening.

People at risk of pressure injuries

People who need to sit in chairs or wheelchairs or lie in bed for long periods and can't change position without help have a greater risk of getting pressure injuries. The very young and older people have a greater risk of developing pressure injuries as their skin is thin and fragile. But any age group can develop pressure injuries.

Poor circulation and nerve damage from injuries or illnesses such as diabetes increase your risk of getting a pressure injury. So do urinary and bowel incontinence, poor nutrition (not eating well) and smoking.

Preventing pressure injuries

Most pressure injuries can be prevented. Regularly changing position, taking good care of your skin and having a healthy diet can help. Moisturising twice a day helps keep your skin healthy and reduces the risk of skin tears.

If you're in a wheelchair or sitting for long periods, you should change position every 15 minutes. If you have to stay in bed for a long, time you should change position at least every two hours. Barrier cream can help protect your skin by helping to prevent skin damage.

If you're sitting or lying for a long time and find it hard to move, there are special cushions and mattresses that can help to prevent pressure injuries. Your general practice team, district nurse or occupational therapist will be able to help you with these.

If you or someone you care for is at risk of pressure injuries, you may be able to get funding to buy the cushions and mattresses that help to prevent them. Speak to your general practice team and ask if you could be referred to an occupational therapist or physiotherapist for an assessment.

Or you might like to see a private occupational therapist or physiotherapist.

This Canterbury DHB patient information leaflet explains how you can help to prevent pressure injuries if your child is at risk of developing them.

Treating pressure injuries

Pressure injuries are treated with dressings, creams and gels. Specialised cushions, mattresses and other devices can help relieve the pressure. But changing position is the most important treatment. Serious pressure injuries may need surgery.

If you have a pressure injury, you will also need to eat well. Read more about what you can do in Helping my wound heal.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2022.


Page reference: 113888

Review key: HISKW-128569