How Should Physicians Assess and Manage Pressure Ulcers in the Hospitalized Patient?

Key Points

  • Risk factors for developing pressure ulcers include increased external pressure, shear, friction, moisture, poor perfusion, immobility, incontinence, malnutrition, and impaired mental status.
  • The NPUAP Classification System facilitates accurate and consistent wound-staging across clinical settings.
  • Delayed healing and increased pain in a treated wound may be the only signs of a pressure ulcer infection.
  • Assessments of pressure ulcer stage, wound infection, and risk factors guide targeted therapeutic interventions that include prevention of progression or formation of new ulcers, local wound management, and antibiotic use.

Additional Reading

  • European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel and National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel. Treatment of Pressure Ulcers: Quick Reference Guide. Washington, D.C.: National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel; 2009.
  • Bates-Jensen BM. Chapter 58. Pressure Ulcers. In: Halter JB, Ouslander JG, Tinetti ME, Studenski S, High KP, Asthana S, eds. Hazzard’s Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2009.
  • Reddy M, Gill SS, Rochon PA. Preventing pressure ulcers: a systematic review. JAMA. 2006;296(8):974-984.
  • National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel. Pressure Ulcer Prevention Points. National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel website. Available at: http://www.npuap.org/resources/educational-and-clinical-resources/pressure-ulcer-prevention-points. Accessed Jan. 28, 2013.

The Case

An 85-year-old woman with stroke, functional quadriplegia, and diabetes mellitus presents with altered mental status. She is febrile (38.5°C) with leukocytosis (14,400 cells/mm3) and has a 5 cm x 4 cm x 2 cm Stage III malodorous sacral ulcer without surrounding erythema, tunneling, or pain. The ulcer base is partially covered by green slough. How should this pressure ulcer be evaluated and treated?

Overview

Pressure ulcers in vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those with limited mobility, are exceedingly common. In the acute-care setting, the incidence of pressure ulcers ranges from 0.4% to 38%, with 2.5 million cases treated annually at an estimated cost of $11 billion per year.1,2 Moreover, as of Oct. 1, 2008, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guideline states that hospitals will no longer receive additional payment when a hospitalized patient develops Stage III or IV pressure ulcers that are not present on admission.

A pressure ulcer is a localized injury to skin and underlying soft tissue over a bony prominence due to sustained external pressure.3 Prolonged pressure on these weight-bearing areas leads to reduced blood flow, ischemia, cell death, and necrosis of local tissues.4 Risk factors for developing pressure ulcers include increased external pressure, shear, friction, moisture, poor perfusion, immobility, incontinence, malnutrition, and impaired mental status.4 Inadequately treated pressure ulcers can lead to pain, tunneling, fistula formation, disfigurement, infection, prolonged hospitalization, lower quality of life, and increased mortality.4

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