What are Pressure Ulcers?
ulcers are sores that occur when pressure cuts off the blood supply
to the skin. Stress caused by the bodys weight and the impact
of striking the ground place the ball of foot, the big toe, and
the heel at greatest risk. Left untreated, an ulcer may allow infection
to enter your body. If infection reaches the blood stream or bone,
your life or limb may be at risk. But with your doctors help,
your health can be protected. Pressure ulcers can be controlled
and even prevented.
How Do Pressure
Force or friction against the bottom of your foot causes the skin
to thicken, forming a callus. If the skin keeps thickening, the
callus presses up into the foot. This kills healthy tissue and causes
pain. Unfortunately, you may not notice the pain if you have neuropathy,
a health problem that limits how much feeling you have in your feet.
As healthy skin dies, an ulcer forms. Ulcers may progress from hot
spots to infected wounds very quickly
Red hot spots on the skin are signs of pressure or friction.
They are a warning that you need to take care of your feet. If pressure
is not relieved, a hot spot is likely to blister. Left untreated,
a blister can turn into an open wound or a corn (thickened skin
on top of the foot) or callus.
If a corn or callus presses into the foot, it destroys inner layers
of skin and fat. Cracks and sores may form. These open wounds are
ulcers. They provide a way for infection to enter the body. In some
cases, dead skin (such as a corn or callus) may cover an open wound,
making it harder to see.
If bacteria enter the ulcer, infection sets in. This causes more
healthy tissue to die. The infected ulcer may begin to drain. The
discharge may be white, yellow, or greenish. Some infected ulcers
bleed or have a bad odor. If you develop an infected ulcer, call
your doctor right away.
Your Physical Exam
During your foot exam, your doctor will ask about your health. Do
you have poor circulation, diabetes, or kidney problems? Have you
noticed any foot problems? Your doctor will check your feet for
hot spots and thickened skin. He or she may also look for any bone
or joint problems. Your ability to feel sensation in your feet may
also be checked.
Blood flow and nerve sensation in your feet may be tested if you
have a chronic health problem, such as diabetes. If you have a deep
pressure ulcer, an x-ray or bone scan may be done to check for signs
of bone infection.
A Doctor's Treatement
With your doctors care, hot spots, small cracks, or sores
can be treated before they get infected. If infection is already
present, medications will probably be prescribed. Surgery may also
be needed if the infection has spread.
Cleaning the Ulcer
To assist healing, thickened skin around the ulcer may be cleaned
away. Medicated ointment or cream may be applied to prevent infection.
Sometimes a special dressing is used to help keep the wound dry.
To take pressure off hot spots and ulcers, your doctor may prescribe
orthoses. These custom-made shoe inserts absorb or divert pressure
from problem areas. Special shoes or temporary casts may also be
To control or prevent infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
Take them all, and take them as directed. If you stop using an antibiotic
too soon, the infection may come back.
If Surgery Is Needed
Surgery may be needed if infection enters deep tissues or bone.
In such cases, your doctor cleans away the infection while removing
as little tissue or bone as possible. You may also be given intravenous
(IV) antibiotics to fight the infection.
By taking care of yourself, you may be able to prevent pressure
ulcers. At the very least, you can reduce your risk of getting one.
Try to check your feet daily and to improve your overall health.
Also, protect your feet by wearing shoes and socks that dont
Checking Your Feet
Use a mirror to look at the bottom of your feet each day. By doing
so, you can catch small skin changes before they turn into ulcers.
Call your doctor if you notice hot spots, red streaks, swelling,
or any cracks or sores. Also, check the soles and insides of your
shoes before putting them on. Remove any objects, such as pebbles.
Do your best to control health problems that may affect your feet,
such as diabetes and kidney disease. Eat right and exercise. If
you are given medications, take them as directed. If you smoke,
stop. Smoking reduces blood flow and slows heal-ing. Limiting alcohol
intake may also be helpful.
Consultant: Brad L. Naylor, DPM, MS With contributions
by: G. Howard Bathon, MD, ORS and Thomas T. Pignetti, DPM
This information is not intended as a substitute
for professional health care.
©1994, 1999 The StayWell Company