Symptoms and Signs of Pressure Sores (Bedsores)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/20/2021

Doctor's Notes on Pressure Sores (Bedsores)

Pressure sores (bedsores) is a term that describes an injury to the skin that has unrelieved pressure over a defined area that usually covers a bony prominence such as the hip, sacrum, or heels, and results in poor or inadequate blood flow to the area. Pressure sores can progress to local skin cell death and eventually deep tissue necrosis. Although they are often called bedsores, pressure sores also refers to pressure problems that can originate from other conditions other than the hospital or home bed. 

Symptoms of pressure sores vary with the stage or condition of skin and muscle at the body site and symptoms vary with the stage and they can be a progressively serious problem.

  • Symptoms may start with:
    • discolored skin (purple or dark red) that is intact or has blood-filled blisters,
    • no breaks or tears in the skin, but pain may be present,
    • skin may turn white when pressed with finger,
    • redness,
    • area may be chronically swollen and warmer than surrounding skin.
  • Symptoms progress to partial-thickness loss of skin:
    • painful
    • tender to touch
    • ulcers may begin to develop
  • Symptoms progress to full-thickness loss of skin, including some of the subcutaneous tissue but not through the underlying fascia:
    • ulcers may be deep but do not show muscle or bone
    • some patients at this stage may not feel pain due to extensive tissue destruction
  • Finally, full-thickness tissue loss with extension to the muscle, bone, tendon or joint, often with pus production that can be colored (yellow, gray, green, brown, or black) occurs.

What Is the Treatment for Pressure Sores?

Treatment for pressure sores involves:

  • Removing pressure on the affected area to ensure that the sores do not worsen or that no further sores develop
  • Protecting the wound with medicated gauze or other types of bandaging
  • Keeping the wound clean
  • Medications including antibiotics if the pressure wound is infected
  • In severe cases, healthy skin may be transplanted to the area of a previous pressure sore

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.