Can Bed Sores be Fatal?

Fatal BedsoresBed sores are injuries that can occur when a nursing home resident or hospital patient stays in the same position for too long, applying pressure to one area of the body long enough to interrupt the blood supply and damage the skin’s tissues. Despite their preventable nature, bed sores occur in thousands of hospital patients and nursing home residents every year. Sadly, not all victims will survive bed sores. Bed sores can be fatal if they progress far enough to cause severe health complications, such as infection, cellulitis, or sepsis.

Bed Sore Morbidity Rate

Patients in about 20% of intensive care units in the United States suffer bed sores. Bed sores generally have high odds of positive patient outcomes, but only with early intervention and treatment. The longer a patient goes without treatment, the higher the odds of morbidity from a bed sore wound. An untreated bed sore can fester and develop an infection, interfering with healing and leading to a chronic wound. The following complications can increase the risk of bed sore morbidity:

  • Infection. A bed sore can become infected if contaminated with bacteria. Bed sores on incontinent elderly individuals are most prone to infections. Bed sore infections can interfere with the natural wound healing process, damaging the tissues’ ability to properly recover. Infection could worsen into a life-threatening condition called sepsis.
  • Sepsis. Sepsis is a common cause of bed sore related death. It is a serious condition that stems from the body’s natural immune response to infection. The release of chemicals into the bloodstream could result in an imbalance that triggers multiple organ damages. Sepsis is often fatal in elderly patients.
  • Cellulitis. Cellulitis is a bacterial skin infection that is often painful. Complications of cellulitis can include tissue death and an infection that spreads to the blood, lymph nodes, heart, or nervous system. An infection from cellulitis could be fatal for a bed sore patient.

Patients who develop these complications may be more at risk of passing away from their bed sore wounds than others. Bed sores can transition from early-stage pressure ulcers to more dangerous late-stage wounds if they go without treatment, or if treatment fails to prevent further destruction of skin tissues.

Late Stage Bed Sores

If a caregiver misses the early signs of a bed sore, the wound could worsen into a stage three or four ulcer. A stage three bed sore is a deep wound that can expose the patient’s underlying fatty tissues. It may appear like a crater with some dead tissue. Stage three wounds typically are not fatal for patients, unless left untreated. Stage four pressure ulcers can be fatal, as they come with large-scale tissue death, exposed muscles, and difficulty healing.

Preventing Bed Sore Deaths

Bed sores deaths are generally preventable if caregivers know what to look for. Understanding the mechanics of what causes a bed sore can help nurses prevent them in patients and nursing home residents. Stopping a bed sore from occurring is always preferable to treating one. If a bed sore does occur, early diagnosis and intervention are important for preventing dangerous health complications. Early treatment methods can remedy a bed sore before it can become fatal:

  • Turning the patient
  • Relieving pressure
  • Restoring blood flow
  • Applying an antibiotic to sores

A bed sore fatality may qualify as wrongful death if someone else reasonably should have prevented the bed sore, or found the sore and started treatment at a less severe stage. If a prudent and diligent physician or nurse could have prevented the death, the caregiver in question could be liable for wrongful death. Liability means the caregiver, nurse, hospital, or nursing home would have to pay for the family’s damages relating to the bed sore death.


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