Fortunately, most pressure sores are treatable but without proper care and treatment, they can become serious issues. Pressure sores can cause pain, lengthen a hospital stay or even lead to fatal complications such as sepsis (blood poisoning), cellulitis, bone and joint infection, and gas gangrene.
Of course, it’s always better to try to prevent pressure sores, so it never needs to get to the treatment phase. Patients who are wheelchair bound or bed bound will need to move around and reposition themselves regularly – either by themselves or with help – or use pressure redistributing equipment (such as special mattresses and cushions) or barrier creams.
If you’re at risk of pressure sores and your healthcare team haven’t done everything possible to prevent sores from developing, this could signify a failure in the level of care they owe to you. This also applies if you develop pressure sores and they don’t give you proper and timely treatment. If you have found yourself in either of these situations, you may be able to bring a pressure sore claim against your healthcare provider.
What does a pressure sore look like?
Spotting pressure sores early on allows the best chance for treatment to work and prevent them from worsening. The signs you can look out for include:
- Discolouration of the skin: pale skin tends to get red patches and dark skin tends to get purple or blue patches.
- Discoloured patches not turning white when pressed.
- Changes in texture of the skin, with areas becoming spongy or hard.
- Areas of the skin feeling cooler or warmer to the touch than other areas.
- Pain or itchiness in the affected area.
As a sore gets worse, the skin will break and the wound will get deeper as more and more layers of the skin become affected.
A short outline of pressure sore grading
Healthcare professionals use a grading system to describe the severity of pressure sores and decide on the appropriate treatment. They use this grading as a base line to monitor improvement or deterioration. It can be useful for you to get an understanding of this system, and what each stage means, as you’ll likely find it used in much of your standard documentation.
If your doctor talks about the ‘stage’ of your pressure sores, they’ll be referring to this grading system:
- Stage 1: the mildest stage when the pressure sore only affects the top layer of your skin.
- Stage 2: when the sore worsens and leaves an open wound or a pus-filled blister.
- Stage 3: when the sore reaches the deeper layers of skin, leaving what looks like a crater.
- Stage 4: the most serious stage when the sore is deep and big. At this stage, you may be able to see tendons, muscles and bone.
What are the causes of pressure sores?
Pressure sores are formed when the blood supply to the skin is limited. The skin becomes starved of oxygen and nutrients, the cells die, and the skin breaks down. The main causes of this typically include:
- Pressure from a hard surface, such as a bed or wheelchair.
- Friction from clothing or bedding that makes skin fragile and vulnerable to injury. If you get muscle spasms, this can increase the amount of friction that occurs.
- Moisture from sweat or incontinence, which breaks down the outer layer of the skin.
Anyone can get pressure sores, but some people are more at risk of developing them than others. You may be considered high risk if you:
- Have mobility problems such as a spinal cord injury, a broken bone, rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Have poor nutrition
- Have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart or kidney failure, or lung disease
- Are over 70 years old
- Have bladder and/or bowel incontinence
- Have serious mental health conditions
- Are a smoker
You’re particularly at risk of developing pressure sores after a spinal injury, and, if you’re paralysed, they can form without you even knowing. It’s therefore vital that healthcare workers are extra vigilant to prevent sores from forming.
Making a pressure sore claim
Sadly, negligent treatment by healthcare professionals could lead to missed pressure sores that can have fatal consequences. It’s thought that about 7-8% of deaths of those with spinal injuries are related to pressure sores, usually as a result of infection. If you received negligent care at a hospital or other medical facility that lead to pressure sores, you may want to bring a pressure sore negligence claim against the healthcare providers who were caring for you.
We may be able to help you bring a pressure sore claim and get compensation that can help cover the costs of care and rehabilitation and allow you the best chance of recovery. If you’re unsure whether or not you have a case, or want to know more about what’s involved, you can contact us for a no-obligation conversation.