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Are Pressure Sores Life-Threatening?

Are Pressure Sores Life-Threatening?

Short Answer: Yes

Yes, pressure sores can cause significant harm including pain, infection, sepsis, and even death. The vast majority of pressure sores can be prevented. If pressure sores are detected early and properly addressed, the harm from the wound can be limited.


Pressure sores, also known as bedsores or pressure ulcers, are a significant concern for individuals with limited mobility or extended bedridden periods. These wounds result from prolonged pressure to the skin and underlying tissues, and understanding their potential risks and implications is crucial for effective prevention and management strategies.

Pressure sores are distressingly common in nursing homes where proper pressure sore precautions are too often not implemented. These facilities have a responsibility to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their residents, especially those who are dependent on staff for their care. However, due to factors such as inadequate staffing, insufficient training, and lack of protocols, pressure sores often develop among vulnerable individuals. The failure to implement preventative measures, such as regular repositioning schedules, appropriate support surfaces, and staff education on pressure sore prevention puts residents at a heightened risk.

Understanding Pressure Sores

Pressure sores are localized injuries to the skin and underlying tissues caused by prolonged pressure, shear, or friction. These wounds, often underestimated, can extend beyond what is visible to the naked eye. Prolonged pressure on specific areas compresses the underlying tissues, compromising blood flow and oxygen supply. This can lead to damage and necrosis (tissue death) not only in the skin but also in the deeper layers, including muscles, tendons, and even bones. The hidden damage is concerning as it can delay the healing process and increase the risk of infection. Therefore, it is crucial to recognize that pressure sores may involve extensive tissue damage beyond what is immediately visible, highlighting the need for thorough assessment and appropriate treatment to address the underlying tissue involvement.

Serious Health Implications of Pressure Sores

Pressure sores can pose serious dangers beyond the significant pain they cause. In addition to the physical discomfort, these wounds can have profound psychological and emotional effects on individuals. The chronic pain, limited mobility, and dependence on others for care can lead to feelings of helplessness, frustration, and even depression. The psychological impact of pressure sores can significantly affect a person’s overall well-being and quality of life.

Moreover, pressure sores can lead to various infections that can further escalate the dangers. Damaged skin provides an entry point for bacteria, increasing the risk of infection. If left untreated, infections can spread to the underlying muscles, tendons, ligaments, and even bones (osteomyelitis). Infections in these deeper tissues can cause significant pain, delay healing, and pose serious health risks.

One of the most severe complications associated with pressure sore infections is sepsis. Sepsis occurs when the infection enters the bloodstream, triggering a systemic inflammatory response. This response can lead to widespread organ dysfunction and failure, endangering the individual’s life. Sepsis is a medical emergency that requires immediate and aggressive treatment to prevent further complications and potential death.

Furthermore, pressure sores can become chronic wounds that are challenging to heal. The compromised blood flow and reduced oxygen supply to the affected areas hinder the natural healing process. Delayed wound healing increases the risk of further infection and exacerbates the pain and discomfort experienced by the individual. The persistence of chronic pressure sores requires specialized wound care, which can be time-consuming, costly, and emotionally draining for both the patient and their caregivers.

Watch For Red-Flags

When it comes to protecting nursing home patients from serious harm caused by pressure sores, families can be proactive by keeping an eye out for certain red flags. These warning signs can help identify potential issues and prompt necessary interventions. Here are seven red flags that families should look for:

  1. Understaffing: If the nursing home appears understaffed, that is the first warning sign that patients are likely not being repositioned as often as they need to be. This puts patients at high risk for developing pressure sores. Watch to see if the patient is being regularly repositioned (at least every 2 hours while in bed and every hour while in a wheelchair.)
  2. Unexplained Pain or Discomfort: If the patient complains of pain or discomfort that cannot be attributed to any other cause, it may be a sign of pressure sore development. Persistent pain warrants further investigation.
  3. Skin Discoloration or Redness: Persistent skin discoloration, such as redness, on the bony prominences or other pressure points can indicate the early stages of pressure sores. Prompt attention is crucial to prevent progression.
  4. Swelling or Warmth: Increased swelling or warmth around the affected area could be a sign of infection. These signs should be carefully monitored and reported to the nursing home staff for further evaluation.
  5. Foul Odor: A foul smell in the room, which may be emanating from the patient’s skin or bedding, can be an indication of infected pressure sores. An infected pressure sore should be promptly ruled out as a cause.
  6. Delayed Healing: Pressure sores that show no signs of improvement or take an extended period to heal may suggest that proper precautions and treatment are not being performed.
  7. Deteriorating Overall Health: Any unexplained deterioration in the patient’s overall health, including sudden weight loss, increased fatigue, or changes in mental status, should raise concerns about potential complications from pressure sores. Timely medical attention is essential.


Pressure sores are not only painful but can also lead to serious harm and complications, including psychological and emotional distress, skin and tissue infections, sepsis, and even death. Nursing homes and hospitals have a responsibility to implement proper pressure sore precautions, yet the failure to do so is unfortunately common.

Families should be aware of the red flags associated with pressure sores, such as skin discoloration, unexplained pain, delayed healing, foul odor, swelling, warmth, and deteriorating overall health. By recognizing these warning signs and advocating for their loved ones, families can help prevent serious harm from pressure sores and ensure the well-being and safety of nursing home patients. It is crucial to prioritize early intervention, proper wound care, and a comprehensive approach to prevention to minimize the risks and potential life-threatening implications of pressure sores.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Q: Can pressure sores be life-threatening?
A: Yes. Pressure sores can lead to life-threatening complications, including pain, infection, sepsis and death. It is crucial to implement precautions to help prevent pressures sores, and to promptly treatment if they are allowed to develop..

Q: Can pressure sores be prevented?
A: Yes, the vast majority of pressure sores can be prevented with proper care and precautions. Implementing strategies such as regular repositioning, appropriate support surfaces, adequate nutrition and hydration, and maintaining proper hygiene are essential in preventing pressure sores.

Q: What should I do if I suspect my loved one has a pressure sore in a nursing home?
A: If you suspect a pressure sore in a nursing home, it is important to notify the nursing home staff immediately. Request an assessment from a healthcare professional to determine the severity of the pressure sore and ensure appropriate treatment and care.

Q: Can pressure sores lead to serious infections?
A: Yes, pressure sores can lead to serious infections. Damaged skin provides a pathway for bacteria to enter, potentially causing cellulitis (skin infection) or even osteomyelitis (bone infection). Infections can further progress to sepsis, a life-threatening condition if left untreated.

 Jeff Powless is an attorney and the author of the 2017 book, Abuses and Excuses: How To Hold Bad Nursing Homes Accountable.  Abuses and Excuses breaks new ground in helping patients and families hold bad nursing homes accountable, sharing a wealth of insider strategies and insights. It’s an eye-opening account of corporate greed, acts of neglect and abuse, an insidious industry culture of cover-up, and the actual harm that inevitably befalls vulnerable nursing home patients all across the country with shocking frequency.


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