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Bed Sores: Answers To Common Questions

By: Jeff Powless July 27, 2023 no comments

Bed Sores: Answers To Common Questions


As a law firm that represents victims of nursing home and hospital neglect, we are often consulted when patients are allowed to develop painful bed sores. Many have been led to believe that bed sores are insignificant, and nothing to worry about. That is wrong, as bed sores can in fact be life-threatening. Patients are commonly told that bed sores are “inevitable”. That is wrong. Below we answer some of the more common questions patients and families have about bed sores.

What Are Bed Sores?

Bed sores, also known as pressure ulcers or pressure sores, are localized injuries that occur when an area of the skin and underlying tissues are subjected to prolonged pressure, friction, or shearing forces. These wounds typically develop in individuals with limited mobility or those confined to bed or a wheelchair for extended periods. The constant pressure on specific areas, such as the back, hips, heels, and buttocks, leads to reduced blood flow, depriving the tissues of oxygen and nutrients, resulting in tissue damage and skin breakdown. If not promptly addressed, bed sores can progress through different stages of severity, ranging from mild redness to deep, open wounds that can expose underlying muscles and bones.

Who Is At Risk For Bed Sores?

Nursing home patients are particularly at risk for bed sores (pressure ulcers) due to several factors inherent in their living conditions and individual health status. Firstly, many nursing home residents have limited mobility, which often confines them to beds or chairs for extended periods. The lack of regular movement and changes in position can subject specific areas of the body to constant pressure, leading to decreased blood flow and tissue damage. Moreover, elderly individuals, who form a significant portion of nursing home residents, are more susceptible to skin breakdown due to age-related changes in skin elasticity and reduced blood circulation. Additionally, some nursing home residents may have underlying health conditions such as diabetes or neurological disorders that compromise tissue healing and increase vulnerability to pressure ulcers. Factors like incontinence, inadequate nutrition, and impaired sensation can further compound the risk. Given these challenges, nursing homes must prioritize preventive measures, such as frequent repositioning, attentive skin care, and individualized care plans, to reduce the incidence of bed sores and ensure the well-being of their residents.

Why Are Bed Sores Indicative of Poor Care?

Bed sores have been recognized to be an indicator of neglectful nursing care in healthcare settings. Bed sores are typically preventable with proper care and attention, particularly in patients with limited mobility who are at higher risk. When bed sores develop in a nursing home or other healthcare facility, it suggests that essential preventive measures, such as regular repositioning, appropriate support surfaces, and attentive skin care, may not have been implemented adequately. Neglectful nursing care can also be evidenced by a lack of proper monitoring and timely intervention when patients are at risk of developing bed sores. Furthermore, inadequate training and staffing levels can contribute to a failure in recognizing and addressing early signs of bed sores. The presence of advanced and untreated bed sores may indicate a lack of attention and concern for the patient’s well-being, leading to potential legal implications and raising serious concerns about the quality of care provided in the healthcare facility. Ensuring diligent and compassionate nursing care is essential to prevent the development of bed sores and maintain the overall health and dignity of patients under their care.

What Makes Bed Sores Painful?

Bed sores can be intensely painful for most patients due to the combination of tissue damage, inflammation, and exposed nerve endings. The prolonged pressure on specific areas of the body restricts blood flow, leading to ischemia (lack of oxygen) in the affected tissues. Without adequate oxygen and nutrients, the tissues begin to break down, causing skin ulceration and the development of open wounds. The damaged skin becomes hypersensitive, as nerve endings are exposed and vulnerable. Repositioning to alleviate pressure and during wound care procedures can aggravate the pain, as the tender skin is easily irritated. Additionally, the pain can extend beyond the physical discomfort, impacting emotional well-being and mental health. For bedridden or immobile patients, who are at higher risk, the constant discomfort can significantly reduce their quality of life. Addressing the pain associated with bed sores is crucial, and preventative measures, early detection, and proper wound care are essential in providing relief and improving the overall patient experience.

What Are Warning Signs That A Patient Has A Bed Sore?

Recognizing warning signs that a patient has a bed sore is crucial in preventing further complications and providing timely treatment. One of the most common warning signs is red, pink, or purple discoloration on the skin, particularly in areas that are frequently subjected to pressure or friction. The skin may feel warm or tender to the touch, indicating inflammation. In some cases, the skin may appear shiny or have a waxy appearance. As the bed sore progresses, it may develop into an open wound or blister, with visible signs of skin breakdown. Patients may experience pain, itching, or a burning sensation in the affected area. Additionally, bed sores can be associated with localized swelling or skin that feels firmer or softer than surrounding tissue. If a patient is unable to communicate discomfort verbally, caregivers and healthcare professionals should closely monitor these warning signs, conduct regular skin inspections, and take proactive measures to prevent further development or worsening of bed sores.

What Should Be Done To Address A Painful Bed Sore?

When dealing with a painful bed sore, it is essential to address the patient’s comfort and ensure immediate action is taken to prevent further complications. The first step is to seek medical attention from a healthcare professional, such as a nurse, wound care specialist, or doctor, who can assess the severity of the bed sore and recommend an appropriate treatment plan. Proper wound care is crucial, which may involve cleaning the area gently with mild soap and water, followed by application of medicated dressings or ointments to promote healing and prevent infection. Pain management is also essential, and healthcare professionals may prescribe pain medication to alleviate discomfort. To promote healing, patients should be repositioned regularly, ideally every two hours, making sure pressure is relieved to the affected areas. Specialized support surfaces, such as pressure-relieving mattresses or cushions, may be used to redistribute pressure and provide added comfort. Proper nutrition, hydration, and maintaining good overall hygiene are essential to support the healing process. Frequent monitoring and follow-up with healthcare professionals are necessary to track progress and make any necessary adjustments to the treatment plan. Providing emotional support and ensuring the patient’s mental well-being is equally important in managing painful bed sores effectively.

What Can Be Done to Prevent Bed Sores?

Prevention of bed sores (pressure ulcers) is of paramount importance because once they have developed, they can be challenging and time-consuming to heal. Bed sores occur due to prolonged pressure on specific areas of the body, leading to tissue damage and skin breakdown. Once a bed sore has formed, the damaged tissues need time to heal, and the process can be hindered by factors like infection, compromised blood flow, and other underlying health conditions. Bed sores often progress through different stages of severity, with higher stages involving deeper tissue damage, making healing more complex. The treatment of advanced bed sores may require debridement (removal of dead tissue), wound dressings, antibiotics for infection control, and other specialized medical interventions. Moreover, bed sores can be painful, causing discomfort and distress to the patient. Preventive measures, such as regular repositioning, maintaining good skin hygiene, using pressure-relieving devices, and ensuring proper nutrition, are essential in avoiding the development of bed sores. By prioritizing prevention, healthcare providers can significantly reduce the incidence of bed sores and improve the overall well-being of patients, ultimately sparing them from the difficulties associated with healing these challenging wounds.

What Should You Do If You Suspect Bed Sores Were Caused By Neglect?

If there is a concern that a bed sore has developed due to neglect in a healthcare facility or nursing home, it is crucial to take appropriate action and notify the authorities promptly. The first step is to report the issue to the facility’s management or administration. This can be done in person but preferably in writing, clearly outlining the concerns and providing any evidence or documentation available. If the suspected neglect is concerning enough, you can also contact the state’s Department of Health or the appropriate regulatory agency responsible for overseeing healthcare facilities. They have the authority to investigate allegations of neglect and ensure compliance with healthcare standards and regulations.
You may also benefit from involving legal counsel early to help protect the rights of the affected individual and pursue appropriate legal action. Documenting the situation, including photographs of the bed sore and any relevant medical records, can be essential in supporting the claim of neglect. Prompt reporting to the appropriate authorities can lead to timely intervention and improvements in the quality of care, ultimately safeguarding the well-being of all patients in the facility.


Bed sores can be painful and even deadly. It is important to be vigilant in helping to ensure that patients are being protected from developing pressure sores while in a nursing home or hospital. Patients and families should look for warning signs, and address any concerns with staff promptly to ensure that proper precautions are in place. If a bed sore develops, it is imperative that the facility staff promptly acts to implement measures necessary to relieve pressure to the wounds and to ensure appropriate treatments are made in a timely and consistent manner. You can report any concerns to appropriate authorities for further investigation and action. By taking action, you can help ensure that the patient and others receive the care they deserve.


Additional Information:

Reporting Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect in Indiana

Recognizing Physical Signs of Neglect or Abuse in Nursing Homes

When Should You File a Nursing Home Complaint?


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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