Caring for chronic wounds
At least one in 20 Singaporeans suffer from chronic wounds – a condition where wounds do not heal properly for more than a month. Examples of chronic wounds include diabetic foot ulcers, pressure injuries, arterial and venous leg ulcers.
Wounds that do not heal
Wounds go through several stages of healing. First, the blood clots to prevent further bleeding, and a scab forms to protect the wound. As the wound begins to heal over the course of a few weeks, swelling, pain and discharge will decrease and new tissue will grow over the wound.
If the wound does not heal properly after 4 weeks, it will ooze pus and smell, become red around the wound, become more painful, and may develop into a chronic wound – a condition that may take years to heal or at worst case, never heal.
Chronic wounds can be excessive pressure on bony parts of the body (pressure ulcers), damage to the feet or legs due to poor circulation (arterial or venous leg ulcers), or poor glycemic control leading to diabetic foot ulcers. can be caused by patients with diabetes, cardiovascular and peripheral vascular disease, and limited mobility are most likely to develop chronic wounds. Unless addressed with care, these wounds rarely heal on their own.
Impact of chronic wounds
Patients with these ‘hard-to-heal’ wounds often experience anxiety and distress from the prolonged pain and suffering. If not properly treated, they can lead to severe infections, amputations and even death. Chronic wounds need to be diagnosed and treated early to prevent such complications.
Taking care of wounds
Besides treating the underlying cause of the wounds, patients will need proper wound care and a healthy lifestyle to encourage the wound to heal. Some patients may even need surgery to remove dead tissue to improve the blood flow and oxygen to the wound.
Here are three tips to take care of chronic wounds:
1. Keep wounds clean and dry:
- To prevent the wound from being infected, patients and caregivers need to wash their hands with soap and water before touching the wound and keep a clean dressing on. Dressings absorb fluid that drains from the wound, keep out germs and protect the wound from further injury.
- When bathing, wounds on the legs should be kept dry with waterproof covers or elevated in a shower chair to prevent water soaking the wound dressing.
2. Protect the wound from trauma or injury: Don’t let anything touch it or bump on it.
3. Check the wound regularly: See the doctor immediately if there is bleeding, or if there is more pain or discharge from the wound.
Eating right for healing
Eating the right foods gives the wound the building blocks it needs to heal. Patients with chronic wounds should ensure they get enough protein, vitamin C and zinc in their diets.
- Protein helps build and repair skin and other body tissues. Patients should eat healthy sources of protein such as lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy, or soy with each meal.
- Vitamin C plays an important role in helping wounds heal and form new skin tissue. Patients should eat more of fruits and vegetables with good sources of Vitamin C such as oranges, kiwis, berries, tomatoes, and broccoli.
- Zinc is a mineral that is also important for wound healing and formation of new skin tissues. Food that are high in zinc include red meat, milk and dairy products, shellfish, beans and lentils, bread and cereals and leafy green vegetables.
- Dehydration causes skin to become more fragile and prone to injury. Patients should drink 6 to 8 glasses of liquids a day unless their doctors advise against it.
Getting the proper treatment for chronic wounds increases the patient’s quality of life and reduces the burden on caregivers – so don’t ignore your wounds.
Arterial ulcers develop as the result of damage to the arteries due to lack of blood flow to tissue.
Venous ulcers develop from damage to the veins caused by an insufficient return of blood back to the heart.
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) is a blood circulation disorder that causes the blood vessels outside of your heart and brain to narrow, block, or spasm.