Skin Wounds: Types, Risks, and Treatment Options
For many people, wounds such as cuts or sores naturally heal within a short time. However, in some cases, wounds fail to heal properly on their own, leading to extended hospital stays or potentially dangerous medical complications. Underlying medical problems such as diabetes, poor circulation, obesity, or an impaired immune system often contribute to the development of non-healing wounds.
Seniors are at a high risk of developing non-healing wounds, with an estimated 3% of people over 65 having open sores in the United States. The senior population is expected to exceed 55 million this year, suggesting that chronic wounds will be a severe problem in the coming years1. Non-healing wounds may include:
- Surgical wounds
- Foot or leg ulcers caused by diabetes complications
- Pressure ulcers
- Venous ulcers
- Skin sores caused by radiation treatment
- Skin grafts
- Internal injuries such as bone infection (osteomyelitis)
- Crush injuries from an accident
When the body is not able to heal a wound on its own, proper wound treatment is critically important to avoid serious long-term complications. Patients with non-healing wounds also report a low quality of life and deal with high healthcare costs2. A multidisciplinary wound healing center can provide the specialized treatment options and medical expertise needed to support the body’s healing process, limit health complications, and speed recovery.
Types of wounds
Acute wounds are those that generally heal uneventfully with time, such as wounds from an accident, surgery, burn, or skin graft. However, if acute wounds fail to heal correctly with routine care, they can develop into serious non-healing wounds vulnerable to infection or severe scarring. Tissue damage and inflammation caused by radiation treatments can also lead to non-healing wounds, particularly when an infection takes hold in the skin.
Wounds that have not fully healed and stay open for over a month are known as chronic wounds. Chronic wounds affect an estimated 8.2 million Americans and are commonly connected to underlying medical conditions such as diabetes and obesity1. Common chronic wounds include diabetic ulcers, pressure ulcers, venous ulcers, and arterial ulcers.
Over 100 million adults are currently living with diabetes or prediabetes in the United States1. Individuals living with diabetes often develop other health complications, including wounds that do not heal. Open foot sores, known as foot ulcers, are particularly common in diabetic individuals due to nerve damage and loss of feeling that occurs as the disease progresses. In individuals with diabetes, the risk of developing a foot ulcer during their lifetime can be as high as 25%3. Individuals with poor circulation are also at an increased risk of foot ulcers1. Without proper treatment, foot ulcers can lead to loss of a damaged toe, foot, or leg. Limb amputation occurs 10 to 30 times more often in diabetic individuals, highlighting that proper foot ulcer treatment is critical to avoid serious health effects4.
Pressure ulcers, also known as bedsores, are injuries that develop when an area of the skin is exposed to pressure or friction for an extended time. Bedsores most commonly develop on the skin covering bony areas, including the hips, tailbone, heels, and ankles. Each year, more than 2.5 million people in the United States develop pressure ulcers5. Several groups of people are at an increased risk of pressure ulcers, including seniors and those with diabetes, dementia, stroke, or limited mobility. Even young, healthy individuals can develop pressure ulcers if admitted to an intensive care unit for a long period1. Pressure ulcers are vulnerable to infection and may lead to severe blood or bone infections if not treated properly.
Leg ulcers caused by vein problems are known as venous ulcers. Nearly 70% of lower body ulcers are caused by vein problems1. Venous ulcers are believed to occur due to malfunctioning valves within leg veins. When these valves malfunction, blood backs up in the veins, building up pressure. An open sore can form without treatment, which is often slow to heal. Venous ulcers are particularly common in individuals over 65 years of age1.
Arterial ulcers occur when enough oxygen-rich blood fails to reach the lower body. Without enough oxygen, the tissue in the lower legs becomes damaged, leading to ulcers. Arterial ulcers are commonly located between or on the tips of the toes or the outer ankle. Seniors and individuals with vascular disease, diabetes, kidney problems, high blood pressure, or obesity have a higher risk of arterial ulcers.
Consequences of non-healing wounds
Non-healing wounds can have serious implications for an individual’s health, finances, and overall quality of life. Treatment for non-healing wounds can mean more prolonged and more frequent hospital stays. Extended hospitalization, in turn, leads to high healthcare costs and decreased work productivity, resulting in severe financial burdens for many individuals. In many cases, non-healing wounds lead to significant pain and reduced mobility, which can be challenging to manage. Those suffering from non-healing wounds also experience a reduced quality of life due to feelings of loneliness, depression, and social isolation. Without the proper treatment, non-healing wounds can lead to a severe blood infection (sepsis) or bone infection (osteomyelitis), both of which are life-threatening.
In some cases, amputation or death may result from non-healing wounds. Recent studies demonstrate that amputation of lower extremities, such as toes or feet, increased by a staggering 50% between 2009 and 20154. Surprisingly, this increase was particularly high among young and middle-aged adults, likely due to increased rates of diabetes and obesity. In many cases, comprehensive, specialized wound care treatment can speed healing, limit complications, and help those dealing with non-healing wounds achieve long-term recovery
Benefits of a comprehensive wound treatment facility
A specialized wound healing center possesses highly skilled medical staff specialized in wound care treatment. In coordination with the patient’s primary physician, specialized wound healing centers follow a multidisciplinary approach to aggressively treat non-healing wounds, supporting faster healing and better long-term outcomes. After evaluating a patient’s unique medical history and symptoms, wound care specialists develop a personalized wound management plan. Cutting edge technologies, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, may be used to speed healing and limit serious complications.
As experts in wound healing, ECHN’s Center for Wound Healing & Hyperbaric Medicine has a proven track record of healing challenging-to-treat wounds. If you or a loved one has a wound that is not healing correctly, contact us at 860.533.2903 to make an appointment.
- Sen CK. Human Wounds and Its Burden: An Updated Compendium of Estimates. Advances in Wound Care. 2019;8(2):39-48. doi:10.1089/wound.2019.0946.
- Olsson M, Järbrink K, Divakar U, et al. The humanistic and economic burden of chronic wounds: A systematic review. Wound Repair and Regeneration. 2018;27(1):114-125. doi:10.1111/wrr.12683.
- Singh N. Preventing Foot Ulcers in Patients With Diabetes. JAMA. 2005;293(2):217. doi:10.1001/jama.293.2.217.
- Geiss LS, Li Y, Hora I, Albright A, Rolka D, Gregg EW. Resurgence of Diabetes-Related Nontraumatic Lower-Extremity Amputation in the Young and Middle-Aged Adult U.S. Population. Diabetes Care. 2018;42(1):50-54. doi:10.2337/dc18-1380.
- Berlowitz D, VanDeusen Lukas C, Parker V, et al. Preventing pressure ulcers in hospitals; A toolkit for improving quality of care. In: Affairs USDoV, ed. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.