Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2008;78(10):1195-1196

See related article on pressure ulcers.

What is a bedsore?

A bedsore is a wound that happens when your skin rubs against an object (for example, bedsheets or a wheelchair) or when you don't move for several hours. Bedsores are also called pressure ulcers. They usually happen on areas where a bone sticks out under the skin, like the tailbone, ankles, back, buttocks, heels, and hips (see drawing).

Who gets them?

Bedsores usually happen in people who have trouble moving, use a wheelchair, or can't get out of bed. They are more likely to happen if you have diabetes, dementia, heart or kidney failure, or cancer.

How can I prevent them?

You should change positions every two hours and move around more, if possible. Physical therapy may also help.

You or a caregiver should check for redness or sores on your skin. This will help to find bedsores early. Keep your skin dry by changing the bedsheets and your undergarments often.

Your doctor may recommend using a special mattress or a device that protects your skin (for example, chair cushions or foam pads). Good nutrition also helps prevent bedsores. Tell your doctor if you are not eating well (at least one half of each meal).

What should I do if I get a bedsore?

Your doctor, and possibly a wound specialist, should examine it. You may need a home caregiver to help you treat the wound. The caregiver can also help reposition you throughout the day if you have trouble doing it yourself. Tell your doctor if you are in pain.

How are bedsores treated?

A nurse or home caregiver will clean and cover the wound with a dressing. The dressing must be changed often. Do not clean the wound with skin cleansers, like iodine-povidone (one brand, Betadine) or hydrogen peroxide. Always follow your doctor's instructions about caring for your wounds.

If your bedsore gets infected, your doctor may give you medicine. Sometimes, surgery is needed to treat severe wounds.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

Association for the Advancement of Wound Care

National Institutes of Health

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