Bed sores are medically complex conditions that progress through a series of stages from 1 to 4. Stage 1 pressure ulcers are the least serious and resolve on their own with some simple intervention. By the time a pressure ulcer progresses to stage 4, patients are at risk of death from a number of serious complications, including sepsis. What does this mean, and how do patients progress to this life-threatening point? Knowing the basics of bed sores and how they affect the body can help reduce the risk of complications and help people properly monitor their loved ones for the signs and symptoms of a serious problem.

How Do Bedsores Cause Sepsis?

Bedsores are most common in people who experience little mobility and spend much of their days in a bed or wheelchair. When caregivers or nursing home attendants do not turn their bodies frequently, blood fails to circulate throughout the body. This, combined with the lack of appropriate oxygen to the area, can lead to the development of ulcers. Bedsores are most common in areas that do not have much fat – for example, the back of the head, shoulders, tailbone, and elbows.

Oxygen depletion of the skin leads to cell death. Once the skin begins to die, an ulcer forms and is readily identifiable by a reddish appearance and being warm to the touch. As the ulcer progresses, the skin may turn yellow or even black.

Stage 1 bedsores do not feature any broken skin. Stage 2 affect the top layers of skin, and stage 3 bedsores affect the fat and other structures underneath the skin. By the time a pressure ulcer reaches stage 4, the underlying tendons, joints, ligaments, and bones are often visible.

The body’s skin is the first line of defense against infection. An open bedsore exposes the body’s internal structure to the elements, increasing the likelihood of developing an infection. Unfortunately, the elderly and immobilized are often less healthy and not as capable of fighting off infections. As a result, bacteria can quickly spread to the lymph nodes and bloodstream – a condition called sepsis. Left untreated, sepsis can quickly lead to multisystem organ failure and death.

Symptoms of Sepsis

Sepsis is a deadly medical condition that may present with unique symptoms depending on the patient. Caregivers should be aware of the following warning signs in any patient with a pressure ulcer:

  • Anorexia, or a loss of interest in eating
  • Mental confusion or lack of awareness regarding surroundings
  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Extremities that are cold to the touch
  • Feverishness

Sepsis is a medical emergency. Without appropriate medical care, the patient is at high risk of organ failure and death. Systemic, intravenous antibiotics are the best way to treat a sepsis infection.

How to Prevent Sepsis

The best way to prevent sepsis in a patient is to prevent bedsores from occurring in the first place. This requires the utmost attention from the caregiver and nursing home attendants, as well as the medical professionals who work in a nursing home facility. Everyone involved in a patient’s care must deliver quality care and assure frequent movement of immobilized patients. If not, the patient can hire a Charleston nursing home abuse lawyer and seek damages for his or her injuries.

Since bedsores tend to develop on areas of the skin with little to no fat, inspections of the heels, ankles, knees, tailbone, hips, shoulders, and back of the head are also beneficial. If caretakers do notice signs of a stage 1 bedsore, they should move the patient more frequently and keep the area dry. At this stage, bedsores are likely to heal on their own.

The more a bedsore progresses, the harder it becomes to treat and the higher the possibility for serious complications. However, sepsis is a preventable medical condition with appropriate care and surveillance.