Without proper care and treatment, chronic wounds can result in extreme pain and discomfort, can jeopardize a person’s quality of life, and in severe cases, they can even lead to potentially life-threatening conditions. Addressing some common types of chronic wounds and acknowledging the factors that inhibit proper healing can help individuals take control of their conditions while allowing for more effective and efficient medical interventions that improve the outcomes for patients, families, and providers.
Types of Chronic Wounds
Roughly 6.5 million people in the United States suffer from chronic wounds. Chronic or non-healing wounds are wounds that have failed to move through the typical stages of healing in a timely matter, or, wounds that have not shown significant signs of progress after 30 days.
While there are various types of chronic wounds, some of the most common conditions fall into three main categories:
- Infectious Wounds – infection can cause a significant delay in healing. Once an open wound is infected, it often becomes chronic. Infectious wounds can typically be identified by the redness or swelling of the surrounding flesh. They may also have a distinct odor, or drainage such as fluid or pus.
- Surgical Wounds – if they are not cared for properly, surgical wounds can be prone to infection and other post-operation complications. It is particularly important for patients to watch out for signs of infection during the first few days after surgery when the wounds are at their most vulnerable.
- Ulcers – ulcers are open sores on the surface of the skin. They are the most common type of chronic wound and can appear almost anywhere on the body. While there are several different types of ulcers, many are caused by prolonged inactivity or stasis (bed sores) or tissue loss resulting from increased weight or pressure, excess friction, or traumatic injury.
Obstacles to Healing
Chronic wounds have various causes, but the effects are almost always the same: they are painful, persistent, and potentially dangerous. Some factors that increase the risk of developing a chronic wound are simply beyond our control. However, there are certain lifestyle factors and comorbid conditions that, if properly managed, can greatly reduce the risk of infection or prolonged healing.
Nutrition – the food we eat greatly impacts our health and our ability to heal. The body requires high levels of protein, vitamins, and other essential nutrients in order to repair damaged tissue and ward off infection. It is always important to eat well and choose nutritious foods, but proper nutrition plays a major role in promoting wound healing.
Infection– infection can cause a significant delay in healing. Once an open wound is infected, it often becomes chronic. Infectious wounds can typically be identified by the redness or swelling of the surrounding flesh. They may also have a distinct odor, or drainage such as fluid or pus.
Smoking and Alcohol Use – as with most medical conditions, excess alcohol consumption can greatly hinder recovery and can also increase a person’s risk for comorbid conditions like cardiovascular disease. Oxygen is vital for proper healing, which means smoking is particularly harmful as well. Smoking lowers oxygen levels in the blood stream, and consequentially decreases the amount of oxygen delivered to a wound, which can delay or even prevent healing.
Circulation – poor arterial circulation or restricted blood flow can hinder the delivery of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body and can slow the body’s natural healing process as a result. Because poor circulation also limits the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the body tissue it increases the risk of a wound becoming chronic. Chronic venous hypertension and venous insufficiency lead to skin and underlying tissue damage, ulceration and infection. Many chronic wounds are a combination of arterial and venous abnormalities.
Condition Management – nearly half of the chronic wound patients we treat at South Shore Health also suffer from a comorbid condition such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, or diabetes. Because these conditions are linked with high blood sugar and blood pressure issues, they can inhibit proper healing if they are poorly managed. Patients can be affected by more than one comorbid condition at a time, making it that much more important for providers to treat the patient as a whole and not just their wounds.
Where to Find Help
At South Shore Health, chronic wound care is built around each patient’s individual needs. Our team of wound care experts takes a multidisciplinary approach so that treatments are standardized, consistent, and patient-focused. Our surgeons, physicians, nurses, and dedicated medical assistants work with patients to manage their chronic wound conditions and to involve patients in their healing processes in order to prevent future complications and improve their quality of life.