Pressure ulcers 

Introduction 

Pressure ulcers, also known as pressure sores, occur when the skin and underlying tissue is damaged 

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Pressure ulcers are a type of injury that breaks down the skin and underlying tissue. They are caused when an area of skin is placed under pressure.

They are also sometimes known as "bedsores" or "pressure sores".  

Pressure ulcers can range in severity from patches of discoloured skin to open wounds that expose the underlying bone or muscle.

Read more about the symptoms of pressure ulcers.

How pressure ulcers develop

Pressure ulcers can develop when a large amount of pressure is applied to an area of skin over a short period of time. They can also occur when less pressure is applied over a longer period of time.

The extra pressure disrupts the flow of blood through the skin. Without a blood supply, the affected skin becomes starved of oxygen and nutrients and begins to break down, leading to an ulcer forming.

Pressure ulcers tend to affect people with health conditions that make it difficult to move, especially those confined to lying in a bed or sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Conditions that affect the flow of blood through the body, such as type 2 diabetes, can also make a person more vulnerable to pressure ulcers.

Learn more about the causes of pressure ulcers.

Who is affected?

It is estimated that just under half a million people in the UK will develop at least one pressure ulcer in any given year. This is usually people with an underlying health condition – for example, around 1 in 20 people who are admitted to hospital with a sudden illness will develop a pressure ulcer.

People over 70 years old are particularly vulnerable to pressure ulcers, as they are more likely to have mobility problems and ageing skin.

Treating and preventing pressure ulcers

Treatment for pressure ulcers includes the use of dressings, creams and gels designed to speed up the healing process and relieve pressure. For the most serious cases, surgery is sometimes recommended.

For some people, pressure ulcers are an inconvenience that require minor nursing care. For others, they can be serious and lead to life-threatening complications, such as blood poisoning or gangrene

Read more about the complications of pressure ulcers.

Pressure ulcers can be unpleasant, upsetting and challenging to treat. Therefore, a range of techniques is used to prevent them developing in the first place. These include:

  • regularly changing a person's position
  • using equipment to protect vulnerable parts of the body, such as specially designed mattresses and cushions

Read about treating pressure ulcers and preventing pressure ulcers for more information.

Unfortunately, even with the highest standards of care, it is not always possible to prevent pressure ulcers in particularly vulnerable people.

Page last reviewed: 10/09/2012

Next review due: 10/09/2014

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