Preventing Pressure Ulcers

This information will explain how you can prevent developing pressure ulcers.

What is a pressure ulcer?

A pressure ulcer is a type of injury to the skin and the tissues underneath it. It is also called a bedsore. It is caused by too much pressure on a bony area of the body, such as your tailbone, buttocks, elbows, or heels.

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What are some risks for pressure ulcers?

  • Lying in bed or sitting in a chair for long periods of time.
  • Not being able to move by yourself.
  • Losing control of your bowel or bladder.
  • Having poor nutrition.
  • Having difficulty knowing what is going on around you (due to medication, fatigue, or hearing and vision changes after treatment).
  • Using medical devices that touch your skin, such as oxygen tubing.
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How can I prevent pressure ulcers?

  • Move around and change your position often when you are sitting or lying down. Even small shifts help.  If you are changing positions in a bed or chair, lift your buttocks; do not drag them. If you are staying in bed, change your position at least once every 2 hours. Ask your family, doctors, or nurses to help you change your position, if needed.
  • Raise the head of the bed as little as possible, unless your medical condition makes it unsafe to lie flat. This will put less pressure on your buttocks.
  • Put pillows or foam wedges between your knees and ankles to keep them from touching. Also, place a small pillow under your lower legs to keep your heels off the bed.
  • If you are in a wheelchair or must sit in a chair for long periods of time, change your position at least once every hour. Do not sit on doughnut-shape pillows. Sit on a regular, rectangular-shaped pillow instead. If you need suggestions about a type of pillow, speak with your doctor or nurse.
  • Keep your skin clean and dry. Shower and bathe as necessary to reduce moisture from urine, stool (feces), or perspiration (sweat).
  • Tell your doctor or nurse if you lose control of your bowels or bladder.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of liquids. If you are on a restricted diet, speak with a dietitian for suggestions. You need to eat well for your skin to stay healthy.
  • Do not rub or massage the skin over any bony parts of your body. This can hurt your skin and the tissues underneath it. To prevent dry skin, apply creams lightly and gently to your skin.
  • Check your skin at least once a day. Remove your medical equipment and check the skin underneath it once a day. Ask your family, doctors, or nurses to help you check your skin, if needed. Tell your doctor or nurse if you feel any pain or see areas that are:
    • Red
    • Cut or open
    • Blistered

Tell your doctor or nurse if you are concerned about the health of your skin. They will work with you and give you more suggestions to help prevent pressure ulcers.

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If you have any questions or concerns, talk with a member of your healthcare team. You can reach them Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm at ____________________. After 5:00 pm, during the weekend, and on holidays, please call____________________. If there’s no number listed, or you’re not sure, call 212-639-2000.
Preventing Pressure Ulcers
©2015 Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center - Generated on October 9, 2015