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Pressure Ulcer: Definition, Assessment, and Management

This article was written in collaboration with Christine T. and ChatGPT, our little helper developed by OpenAI.

Pressure Ulcer Guide


A pressure ulcer, also known as a pressure injury or bedsore, is a localized injury to the skin and/or underlying tissue resulting from sustained pressure, often in combination with shear and friction. Pressure ulcers typically occur over bony prominences, such as the sacrum, heels, or hips, and can range in severity from mild skin reddening to severe tissue damage involving muscle and bone.

Related Terms

  • Decubitus ulcer
  • Pressure sore
  • Ischemic ulcer

Synonyms, Definitions, and Examples

Synonym Definition Example
Bedsore A pressure ulcer that develops when a person spends a prolonged period in bed, often due to illness or immobility. An elderly patient confined to bed develops a bedsore on their sacrum from sustained pressure and lack of movement.
Decubitus ulcer A pressure ulcer resulting from prolonged pressure on the skin and underlying tissues, typically in a recumbent position. A patient with limited mobility develops a decubitus ulcer on their heel from continuous pressure and friction.
Pressure sore An ulceration that occurs when sustained pressure restricts blood flow to the skin and underlying tissues, leading to tissue damage and necrosis. A wheelchair-bound individual develops a pressure sore on their ischial tuberosity due to constant pressure and inadequate repositioning.

Assessment Techniques and Tools

Various techniques and tools can be used to assess pressure ulcers, including:

  • Visual inspection of the skin for signs of redness, swelling, or tissue breakdown
  • Palpation of the affected area to assess tissue consistency, temperature, and presence of pain
  • Measurement of the ulcer dimensions (length, width, and depth) to monitor progression and healing
  • Use of a standardized pressure ulcer staging system, such as the National Pressure Injury Advisory Panel (NPIAP) staging system, to classify the severity and extent of tissue damage

Prevention and Management Strategies

Key strategies for preventing and managing pressure ulcers include:

  • Regular repositioning and offloading of pressure on vulnerable areas
  • Use of pressure-relieving devices, such as specialized mattresses, cushions, or heel protectors
  • Maintaining proper skin hygiene and moisture balance
  • Providing adequate nutrition and hydration to support tissue health and repair
  • Implementing individualized care plans and interdisciplinary teamwork to address the specific needs of each patient
  • Monitoring and documenting the progression of pressure ulcers and adjusting the care plan as needed

Legal and Ethical Considerations

Healthcare providers have a legal and ethical responsibility to prevent and manage pressure ulcers in their patients. Failure to provide appropriate care, including regular skin assessments, pressure relief, and timely intervention, can result in adverse patient outcomes, increased healthcare costs, and potential legal consequences. It is essential for healthcare providers to stay up-to-date on evidence-based guidelines, engage in continuing education, and work collaboratively to ensure the highest quality of care for patients at risk of developing pressure ulcers.

Real-Life Examples or Case Studies

Case Study 1: An elderly patient with limited mobility due to a recent stroke develops a stage III pressure ulcer on their coccyx. The interdisciplinary care team works together to implement a comprehensive care plan, including regular repositioning, pressure-relieving devices, wound care, and nutritional support. Over several weeks, the pressure ulcer shows signs of healing and the patient’s overall condition improves.

Case Study 2: A paraplegic individual in a long-term care facility develops a stage II pressure ulcer on their ischial tuberosity. The care team identifies a lack of appropriate pressure relief in the patient’s wheelchair as a contributing factor. By providing a customized cushion and implementing a regular repositioning schedule, the pressure ulcer begins to heal, and the patient experiences an improved quality of life.

Resources and References


Pressure ulcers are a significant healthcare issue that can lead to serious complications and reduced quality of life for affected individuals. By understanding the definition, related terms, and assessment techniques, healthcare professionals can work together to prevent, manage, and treat pressure ulcers effectively. Ongoing education, interdisciplinary collaboration, and adherence to evidence-based guidelines are essential for ensuring optimal patient outcomes.