Bedsores – The Hidden Killer

>> Thursday, 9 February 2012

If you asked a member of the public if they could name a disease or condition which killed thousands of people every year they would probably say cancer or a heart attack, but you may be shocked to hear that there is a very common condition which kills almost as many as the hospital superbug MRSA – the bedsore.

Bedsores are more properly known as pressure ulcers or decubitous ulcers by the medical professions and whilst many people believe that they only affect elderly patients in nursing homes, bedsores will attack young patients as well as older ones. Anyone who lies or sits in the same position for prolonged periods is at risk of developing a pressure ulcer.

According to the Office of National Statistics over 400,000 people develop bedsores every year and in 2010 alone, more than 27,000 people died from them. A recent article published in the Daily Mail investigated a case where a lady died needlessly because of bedsores. But the most shocking fact is that bedsores are completely preventable! So why then, despite the amazing advances in science and medicine, are we still dying from a condition which killed our Victorian ancestors?

Bedsores form when we remain in the same position for lengthy periods. In normal circumstances we move around the bed naturally, even when we sleep. But if you lay still for any length of time you compress the soft tissues between the bones and the sheets. This reduces your circulation and cuts off the blood supply to the skin and muscle, and if severe enough, the affected tissue can actually die. At the same time the local temperature of the skin increases which builds up moisture at the point of contact with the bedding. This, together with poor circulation, causes the skin to break down and there you have the perfect bedsore.

That’s why many patients who have had major surgery develop bedsores. They are unable to change positions and relieve the pressure because it is too painful or they are not strong enough. It can literally take just a few hours to develop bedsores, but months to heal them again.

The most effective way of relieving the pressure and restoring circulation is to check the patient to make sure they are not developing pressure points and turn them over every hour. The downside of this is that turning a patient is one of the most labour intensive duties in a hospital ward and even using a hoist, it takes two nurses to complete the manoeuvre which means that regular checking and turning can be impractical or in many cases gets overlooked.

Modern technology can make a huge difference. Air mattresses provide a moving air cushion which mimics movement and minimises prolonged contact with the bed, but because of their high cost they are mostly used in critical care units rather than in general wards. A far more practical and cost effective alternative is to use new hi tec bedding called DermaTherapy which is both smoother and silkier than cotton sheets. This reduces friction making it easier for the patient to move around the bed. The fibres also control the temperature by wicking away excess moisture which stops the skin overheating and prevents it sticking to the bedding.

DermaTherapy bedding also has an antimicrobial permanently bonded to the fabric which kills bacteria and dramatically reduces infection. A recent trial carried out in an American Renal unit showed that patients using Derma Therapy sheets developed 62% fewer bedsores, had a 90% improvement in healing existing bedsores and were discharged from hospital 11% sooner than the patients using cotton sheets.

The fact is the only thing that will eradicate bedsores is human intervention and better patient monitoring and care. But using DermaTherapy bedding in hospitals and nursing homes means patients will be more comfortable, develop fewer bedsores and reduce the risk of secondary infections. It means that the interval for checking patients is less critical so it eases the burden on the busy nurses’ time. But the biggest benefit to us all is that it could make a big hole in the 27,000 fatalities and the annual £2 billion that bedsores cost the NHS.

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