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Pressure ulcers: What you need to know

Girl playing basketball
  • Date published:

  • Author: alexmantle

A pressure ulcer (sometimes called a bed sore) is an area of damaged skin that has been caused by continuous pressure, too much moisture and friction may also be present.

It can happen to anyone, anywhere on the body, but usually over a bony part. Pressure ulcers can be painful and distressing.  

What do pressure ulcers look like?

It ranges from a discolouration of the skin (reddening on light skin tones and grey/bluish/purple on dark skin tones) to a deep wound reaching the bone. Pressure ulcers will not change colour if you press the skin and they may be painful and/or itchy. They can be difficult to see on dark skin tones. 

What causes pressure ulcers?

When pressure is put on a specific part of the body for a long period of time without moving. This pressure affects blood flow to the skin leading to pressure ulcers. Pressure ulcers can also develop as a result of moisture, friction and shearing (pressure that occurs when part of the body tries to move but the surface of the skin remains fixed). 

Some things that can encourage the formation of a pressure ulcer include: 

  • pressure from a hard surface such as a bed, calliper, or wheelchair 
  • pressure that is placed on the skin through muscle movements such as muscle spasms 
  • moisture which can break down the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) from incontinence and/or sweating to the area. 

How quickly do pressure ulcers occur?

While ulcers typically develop gradually, they can also occur and deteriorate within a few hours. How quickly a child gets a pressure ulcer depends on the amount of pressure being put onto the skin and/or how vulnerable your child’s skin is to damage. 

Who can get pressure ulcers?

Anyone can develop a pressure ulcer although certain factors put some people at higher risk of developing one. The more of these factors your child has, the higher their risk. Your child is at higher risk of developing a pressure ulcer if: 

  • They have reduced or lack of mobility 
  • They are incontinent  
  • They have a poor diet  
  • They are overweight 
  • Their skin is dry, fragile, thin or previously damaged 
  • They have a long-term health condition such as diabetes, renal disease, heart/circulatory and respiratory problems, stroke, multiple sclerosis, profound multiple disabilities, paraplegia, organ failure, anaemia, peripheral vascular disease and/or a terminal illness 
  • They have recently had major surgery 
  • They take medication which thins the skin 
  • They have an acute injury that is affecting their mobility 
  • They wear ill-fitting footwear  
  • They use a medical device such as a nasogastric tube or CPAP mask 

What should I do if I think I have a pressure ulcer?  

If you suspect that either you or your child has developed a pressure ulcer, it’s important to seek medical advice. Contact your GP for an appointment or contact the hospital if your child is under their care. Click here to learn more about when to seek help. 

Click here to read Leicestershire Partnership Trust’s ‘Pressure ulcers- a guide about pressure awareness’ for more information on pressure ulcers. Warning: There are images within this leaflet that some readers may find upsetting.

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