Is There a Difference Between the Terms: Bed Sore, Decubitus Ulcer, Pressure Ulcer or Pressure Sore?

By Nursing Home Law Center

There is no difference. The terms, bedsore, decubitus ulcer, pressure ulcer and pressure sore all refer to the same phenomenon.

What Do These Terms Refer to?

A bedsore is a wound that develops on a person who has been immobile for long periods. It can be someone confined to a wheelchair or who cannot get out of bed.

A normal, healthy person moves around. Even when we sleep, we roll over, toss and turn. We might get up to go to the bathroom. This provides relief for body parts that have been bearing pressure. However, there are some patients who cannot provide this relief for themselves.

Who is at Risk?

Any person who is immobile for a long period is likely to gradually develop bedsores. There are several conditions that can lead to this, including:

  • Paralysis. A quadriplegic patient is virtually unable to move at all. Whether they are in a bed or a special chair, caregivers must be sure to move their bodies around so that pressure sores do not form. Paraplegic patients may have trouble moving their legs and can still form bedsores.
  • Coma. A patient in a coma appears to be asleep, but their condition is different. Sleepers shift around in bed, but a comatose patient will not move. Healthcare providers need to be proactive to prevent bedsores in comatose patients by frequently turning them and keeping their bodies clean and dry.
  • Weakness. Some patients are simply too weak to move. If they lie still continuously, they will be at risk for developing pressure sores. Elderly patients are often in danger due to lack of energy, but younger patients who are sick and lack the strength to move can also develop bedsores.
Where Do Bedsores Tend to Form?

Bedsores can form anywhere on the body, but some parts are more susceptible to bedsore formation than others. There are two main factors. Some parts of the body, due to human anatomy and the positions we stay in, are more likely to bear the brunt of our weight as we lie down or sit in a chair. In addition, some body parts have less fat than others. Fat acts as a cushion and can relieve pressure on body parts that bear our weight. If a body part protrudes, like an ankle, or has little fat, it can be a prime candidate for developing a bedsore.

The most common areas where bedsores form are:

  • Back of head. There is little fat here, and lying face up is the most common position for comatose, paralyzed and recuperating patients.
  • Ankles. For patients lying on their sides, or whose legs tend to rotate outwards when they lie on their backs, the ankles have little fat and can easily develop bedsores.
  • Heels. This area of the body is frequently in contact with the mattress.
  • Hips. The hips can have more fat, but they also bear a lot of weight, whether we are on our back or our sides.
  • Lower back. The lower back, the part that does not curve inward like the middle back, can be forced to bear much of our weight.
  • Knees. Depending on our position, the knees are mostly free of fat and can rub against mattresses and other objects.
  • Spine. This is especially true of elderly patients. The spine can protrude and has little fat to act as a cushion.

Caregivers must always be alert to the possibility of bedsores. Sick and recuperating patients often lack the energy or capacity for normal movement. Caregivers must make the movements for them, distributing the pressure of bearing the body’s weight to various different areas of the body.

With proper prevention, bedsores, pressure sores, decubitus ulcers or whatever you wish to call them, can be avoided. Prevention is always preferable to treatment.

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