Pressure ulcers (also known as pressure sores or bedsores) are injuries to the skin and underlying tissue, primarily caused by prolonged pressure on the skin.
They can happen to anyone, but usually affect people confined to bed or who sit in a chair or wheelchair for long periods of time.
Pressure ulcers can affect any part of the body that's put under pressure. They're most common on bony parts of the body, such as the heels, elbows, hips and base of the spine.
They often develop gradually, but can sometimes form in a few hours.
Early symptoms of a pressure ulcer include:
part of the skin becoming discoloured – people with pale skin tend to get red patches, while people with dark skin tend to get purple or blue patches
discoloured patches not turning white when pressed
a patch of skin that feels warm, spongy or hard
pain or itchiness in the affected area
A doctor or nurse may call a pressure ulcer at this stage a category one pressure ulcer.
The skin may not be broken at first, but if the pressure ulcer gets worse, it can form:
If you're in hospital or a care home, tell your healthcare team as soon as possible if you develop symptoms of a pressure ulcer. It'll probably continue to get worse if nothing is done about it.
You should be regularly monitored and offered advice and treatment to reduce the risk of pressure ulcers, but sometimes they can develop even with the highest standards of care.
If you're recovering from illness or surgery at home, or are caring for someone confined to bed or a wheelchair, contact your GP surgery if you think you or the person you're caring for might have a pressure ulcer.
Get medical advice immediately if there is:
These symptoms could be a sign of a serious infection that needs to be treated as soon as possible.
Treatments for pressure ulcers depend on how severe they are.
For some people, they're an inconvenience that requires minor nursing care. For others, they can be serious and lead to life-threatening complications, such as blood poisoning.
Ways to stop pressure ulcers getting worse and help them heal include:
Surgery to remove damaged tissue and close the wound is sometimes used in the most serious cases.
Read more about the treatments for pressure ulcers.
Anyone can get a pressure ulcer, but the following things can make them more likely to form:
It can be difficult to completely prevent pressure ulcers, but there are some things you or your care team can do to reduce the risk.
If you're in a hospital or care home, your healthcare team should be aware of the risk of developing pressure ulcers. They should carry out a risk assessment, monitor your skin and use preventative measures, such as regular repositioning.
If you're recovering from illness or surgery at home, or are caring for someone confined to bed or a wheelchair, ask your GP for an assessment of the risk of developing pressure ulcers.