The day itself has developed a long way from its Spanish origins, and humble UK beginnings in the Midlands and East of England to become a global event that generates change. The first year of the NHS campaign in the Midlands and East of England saw providers achieving 50% reductions in pressure ulcers. It is reported that around 700,000 people in the UK will be affected by pressure ulcers each year and 80-95% of pressure ulcer cases received by the NHS are preventable, which is why the pressure ulcer prevention day is so important to help keep raising awareness of pressure ulcers.
Pressure ulcers are also known as bed sores, pressure sores, or in scientific terms: decubitus ulcers. They are wounds or injuries to the skin and/or tissue under the skin caused by shear and/or pressure. Pressure ulcers predominantly occur on the back, hips, buttocks, and heels but can form on any part of the body with a bony area. They occur when someone must sit or lie down for an extended period of time, which could be the result of reduced mobility, an illness, or disability.
Are you at risk of getting pressure ulcers?
Anyone can get pressure ulcers, however there are numerous factors that put you more at risk of developing a pressure ulcer, these could be any one of the following:
- Being over 70, as the skin is more easily damaged through dehydration and other factors
- Being confined to a bed due to an illness, or surgery
- Reduced mobility, or a disability
- Poor diet or hydration
- Certain medications
- Medical conditions that affect your blood supply, make the skin more fragile, or cause movement problems, i.e. diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, kidney failure, heart failure, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease
How do pressure ulcers happen?
The movement of the skin is often the cause of pressure ulcers whether it is being compressed, pulled, rubbed, or stretched. There are two different words given to describe these movements:
Shear force – These are sometimes described as stretching forces, caused by the effects of gravity. For example, when someone slides up and down on a bed or chair, shear forces pull on the skin.
Pressure – The pressure that comes from a surface when a person is lying or sitting compresses the skin and tissue underneath the skin between the surface of the mattress or seat cushion and the bony parts of the body. If this occurs over a long period of time it can stop oxygen and other vital nutrients getting to the skin and tissue and results in pressure damage.
The preventative methods for pressure ulcers are essential as they can occur so quickly, it can take as little as 2 hours for pressure to damage the skin. There are numerous ways you can reduce your chances of getting a pressure ulcer, which include:
- Checking the skin for signs of damage at least once a day if you’re sitting for long periods of time, and if possible stand or move around for five minutes every hour to get your blood flowing.
- Repositioning in a wheelchair is recommended every 15-30 minutes, either rolling from side to side, leaning forward to relieve pressure off your bottom or lift offs (pushing yourself up using the armrests to relieve pressure off your bottom).
- Moving – make sure you turn or change position regularly to transfer your weight off bony areas or your body, if you are unable to do so yourself have a carer or loved one move you regularly.
- Making sure you have a suitable cushion or mattress if you need to sit or lie for extended periods of time to help reduce the risk of damage to the skin.
- Eating a well-balanced diet and keep hydrated.
- Protecting your skin: keep it clean and dry, use mild soaps that don’t dry out the skin. If you suffer from incontinence, wash your skin with gentle soap immediately and pat dry.
Find out more information on pressure ulcers and a guide for families and carers here