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HealthInfo Canterbury

Pressure injuries

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Pressure injuries are sores or ulcers that are caused by long periods of pressure on the 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.

Sometimes they are called pressure sores or bedsores. Friction caused by sliding, wrinkled sheets or clothing can make the sore worse.

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 life-threatening.

Who is at risk of getting 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. Older people have a greater risk of developing pressure injuries, as their skin is thin and fragile.

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. If you are 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 every two hours. Barrier cream can help protect your skin by helping to prevent skin damage.

If you are 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 GP, practice 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 GP and ask if you could be referred to an occupational therapist for an assessment.

Or you might like to see a private occupational therapist.

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. Serious pressure injuries may need surgery.

If you have a pressure injuries you will also need to eat well. Read more about what you can do in How can I help my wound to heal?

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed April 2018.


Page reference: 113888

Review key: HISWU-113876