Bed sores (pressure ulcers) may seem like minor skin irritations at first glance, but an overlooked and underestimated bed sore can evolve into a life-threatening condition known as sepsis.
Sepsis (blood poisoning) is a severe response to an infection that can lead to organ failure and even death.
How do bed sores lead to sepsis?
Bed sores typically develop when prolonged pressure on the skin limits blood flow to specific areas of the body, particularly in bony or prominent areas like the heels, elbows and sacrum. They can also occur in individuals who have difficulty changing positions, such as bedridden patients, wheelchair users or those with limited mobility.
The development of bed sores typically goes through four stages:
- Stage 1: In the initial stage, the skin appears red and irritated and feels warm, but is not broken. This stage is reversible with prompt care.
- Stage 2: At this stage, the skin breaks open or forms a blister, creating a shallow wound. Infection risk begins to increase.
- Stage 3: In this stage, the wound deepens, affecting underlying tissue, muscles, and sometimes bone. The risk of infection is even higher than before.
- Stage 4: This is the most severe stage, where the ulcer extends deeply into muscle and bone, making it extremely susceptible to infection.
Open bed sores, especially those in advanced stages, create an entry point for bacteria, which leads to infection. Typically, when the human body detects an infection, it releases chemicals to fight it. In sepsis, this response becomes dysfunctional and counter-productive. A compromised immune system and poor circulation, both of which are common in people who develop bed sores, make it difficult for someone to fight off infections effectively, making sepsis more likely.
Preventing bed sores is crucial to avoiding the potential progression to sepsis – and significant bed sores are preventable with appropriate care. When a nursing home neglects a patient who cannot easily move on their own nor advocate for themselves and it leads to bed sores and sepsis, it can take pursuing legal action to get any kind of justice.