Over the centuries, pressure ulcers have been referred to as decubitus ulcers, bedsores, and pressure sores. The term pressure ulcer has become the preferred name of choice because it most closely describes the etiology and resultant ulcer. The National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP) revised its definition of pressure ulcers at its 2007 consensus conference to read: “localized injury to the skin and/or underlying tissue over a bony prominence, as a result of pressure, or pressure in combination with shear and/or friction.”
Pressure ulcers are usually located over bony prominences, such as the sacrum, coccyx, hips, and heels, and are staged according to the extent of observable tissue damage. Pressure ulcers can occur even with the best preventive measures. Effective treatment depends on a thorough assessment of the developing wound. Meaningful ulcer assessment requires a systematic and objective approach.
Clinical assessment should include:
* ulcer history, including etiology, duration, and prior treatment
* anatomic location
* size (length, width, depth in centimeters)
* sinus tracts, undermining, and tunneling
* necrotic tissue (slough and eschar)
* granulation tissue (newly formed tissue within a healing wound)
* epithelialization (regenerated tissue within a healing wound).
Pressure Ulcer Classification
The definitions of the four pressure ulcer stages are revised periodically by the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP) in the United States. Briefly, however, they are as follows:
: Intact skin with non-blanchable redness of a localized area usually over a bony prominence. Darkly pigmented skin may not have visible blanching; its color may differ from the surrounding area. The area may be painful, firm, soft, warmer or cooler as compared to adjacent tissue. Stage I may be difficult to detect in individuals with dark skin tones. May indicate “at risk” persons (a heralding sign of risk).
: Partial thickness loss of dermis presenting as a shallow open ulcer with a red pink wound bed, without slough. May also present as an intact or open/ruptured serum-filled blister. Presents as a shiny or dry shallow ulcer without slough or bruising. This stage should not be used to describe skin tears, tape burns, perineal dermatitis, maceration or excoriation.
: Full thickness tissue loss. Subcutaneous fat may be visible but bone, tendon or muscle are not exposed. Slough may be present but does not obscure the depth of tissue loss. May include undermining and tunneling. The depth of a stage III pressure ulcer varies by anatomical location. The bridge of the nose, ear, occiput and malleolus do not have (adipose) subcutaneous tissue and stage III ulcers can be shallow. In contrast, areas of significant adiposity can develop extremely deep stage III pressure ulcers. Bone/tendon is not visible or directly palpable.
: Full thickness tissue loss with exposed bone, tendon or muscle. Slough or eschar may be present on some parts of the wound bed. Often include undermining and tunneling. The depth of a stage IV pressure ulcer varies by anatomical location. The bridge of the nose, ear, occiput and malleolus do not have (adipose) subcutaneous tissue and these ulcers can be shallow. Stage IV ulcers can extend into muscle and/or supporting structures (e.g., fascia, tendon or joint capsule) making osteomyelitis likely to occur. Exposed bone/tendon is visible or directly palpable. In 2012, the NPUAP stated that pressure ulcers with exposed cartilage are also classified as a stage IV.
Unstageable: Full thickness tissue loss in which actual depth of the ulcer is completely obscured by slough (yellow, tan, gray, green or brown) and/or eschar (tan, brown or black) in the wound bed. Until enough slough and/or eschar is removed to expose the base of the wound, the true depth, and therefore stage, cannot be determined. Stable (dry, adherent, intact without erythema or fluctuance) eschar on the heels serves as “the body’s natural (biological) cover” and should not be removed.
Suspected Deep Tissue Injury: A purple or maroon localized area of discolored intact skin or blood-filled blister due to damage of underlying soft tissue from pressure and/or shear. The area may be preceded by tissue that is painful, firm, mushy, boggy, warmer or cooler as compared to adjacent tissue. A deep tissue injury may be difficult to detect in individuals with dark skin tones. Evolution may include a thin blister over a dark wound bed. The wound may further evolve and become covered by thin eschar. Evolution may be rapid exposing additional layers of tissue even with optimal treatment.
With higher stages, healing time is prolonged. While about 75% of Stage II ulcers heal within eight weeks, only 62% of Stage IV pressure ulcers ever heal, and only 52% heal within one year. 4 It is important to note that pressure ulcers do not regress in stage as they heal. A pressure ulcer that is becoming shallower with healing is described in terms of its original deepest depth (e.g., healing Stage II pressure ulcer)2.
4. J Am Med Dir Assoc. Thomas DR, Diebold MR, Eggemeier LM (2005). "A controlled, randomized, comparative study of a radiant heat bandage on the healing of stage 3-4 pressure ulcers: a pilot study". 6 (1): 46–9.
5. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. "Preventing Pressure Ulcers in Hospitals". Retrieved 8 June 2012.
6. Adv Skin Wound Care ."Pressure ulcers in America: prevalence, incidence, and implications for the future. An executive summary of the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel monograph". 14 (4): 208–15. 2001.
7. D.Whitteridge, ‘Guttmann, Sir Ludwig (1899–1980)’, rev. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2012.
8. J Am Acad Dermatol. “Pressure ulcers.” 1998 Apr;38(4):517-36.