People who are older, immobile or bedridden are most at risk for bedsores. These pressure ulcers occur when there’s prolonged pressure on your skin. Friction, moisture and traction (pulling on skin) also lead to bedsores. There are different stages of bedsores. The most serious (stages 3 and 4) increase your risk of life-threatening infections.
Bedsores are wounds that occur from prolonged pressure on your skin. People who are immobile for long periods, such as those who are bedridden or use a wheelchair, are most at risk for bedsores. These painful wounds, or pressure ulcers, can grow large and lead to infections. In some instances, bedsores can be life-threatening.
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You may also hear these terms for bedsores:
Experts estimate that 2.5 million Americans develop bedsores every year. Anyone can get bedsores.
Bedsores can begin anywhere. For example, people who use oxygen therapy can develop pressure sores on the bridges of their noses, ears or the backs of their heads. Pressure ulcers can also form inside your mouth from ill-fitting dentures, intubations or mechanical ventilation.
But bedsores are most likely to develop on the parts of your body where your bones sit closest to your skin, such as your:
Bedsores occur when pressure reduces or cuts off blood flow to your skin. This lack of blood flow can cause a pressure wound injury to develop in as little as two hours. Skin cells on your epidermis (your skin’s outer layer) start to die. As the dead cells break down, a pressure ulcer injury forms.
Bedsores are more likely to develop when there’s pressure along with:
People who have thinner skin and people who have limited (or no) ability to move are more likely to develop bedsores. These include people who:
Children and adults with certain health conditions are more likely to develop bedsores. These conditions include:
Bedsores can be painful and itchy. But some people who have dulled sensations aren’t able to feel them. What a bedsore looks like and what symptoms it causes varies depending on the stage of the wound.
Healthcare providers use a staging system to determine the severity of a pressure ulcer.
Stages of bedsores or pressure ulcers include:
Bedsores increase your risk of potentially life-threatening bacterial infections like cellulitis and septicemia. You may develop sepsis or require an amputation. Worldwide, bedsores lead to the deaths of more than 24,000 people each year.
Some people develop sinus tracts, which are passages that connect the pressure sore injury to structures deeper in your body. Depending on the sinus tract connection, you may develop:
You may see a wound specialist for diagnosis and treatment. Healthcare providers diagnose and stage bedsores based on their appearance. Your provider will photograph the sore to monitor wound healing.
You may get certain tests to check for infections, such as:
You or a caregiver may be able to treat stages 1 or 2 bedsores. For stages 3 or 4 bedsores, you might see a wound specialist. Depending on the severity of the pressure ulcer, it may take weeks or months for the sore to heal.
To treat a pressure injury, you or your healthcare provider may:
For deep, severe pressure ulcers, your healthcare provider will remove dead tissue during a procedure called debridement. Your provider removes the dead tissue using a scalpel. Or they may apply ointments that help your body dissolve the dead tissue. Your provider may first numb the area with a local anesthetic because even though the tissue is dead, the area around it isn’t.
Depending on your symptoms, you may take:
Stages 3 or 4 pressure sores that are deep or affect a large area of skin may require surgery. You may need a skin graft to close the wound and promote healing.
These steps can lower your risk of bedsores:
Your skin isn’t as strong as it was once your pressure sore has healed. It’s important to take preventive measures like repositioning your body often. Advanced bedsores (stages 3 or 4) are more difficult to treat. These pressure sores increase your risk of infection and life-threatening issues.
Alert your healthcare provider if you’re at risk for bedsores and you notice:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
Many people who develop bedsores are malnourished. Malnutrition can occur due to advanced age or health conditions. A nutritious, high-protein diet can prevent bedsores or help them heal. You may also need to take vitamins and supplements. In rare instances, people who are extremely malnourished may need tube feeding (enteral nutrition) or IV nutrition.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Having the limited ability to move and reposition your body puts you at risk for bedsores. If you’re in a wheelchair, bedridden or have other risk factors, it’s important to check your skin for signs of bedsores regularly. (Have a caregiver, loved one or healthcare professional check for sores if you’re unable to do so.) It’s best to catch bedsores early (stages 1 and 2) before your skin breaks open or the opening gets too large. These pressure ulcers respond well to treatment. Pressure injuries that go deeper into the skin (stages 3 or 4) increase your risk of infections and other issues. Proper medical care is critical. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to lower your risk of developing bedsores.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/24/2023.
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