For many individuals, wound healing is a natural process, however, for others, it’s not that easy. Non-healing wounds are a common occurrence that impact the health and quality of life for many. In fact, it’s estimated that in the U.S. about 6.5 million patients suffer from chronic wounds. Without proper treatment, these slow-healing wounds can result in difficult and long-term health problems including extreme pain, loss of function and mobility, and prolonged hospitalization.
What Are Chronic Non-Healing Wounds?
A non-healing wound also referred to as a ‘chronic wound’ is a wound that won’t heal after several weeks or months despite adhering to recommended treatments. In most cases, there is a physiologic impairment that slows or prevents healing. Chronic wounds can quickly escalate and become infected. In some cases, if not properly addressed these types of wounds can result in serious conditions and potentially amputation. That is why it is imperative to educate yourself about the nature of non-healing wounds, who is most at risk, and the proper way to treat them.
Types of Non-Healing Wounds
Although many non-healing wounds share common characteristics; there are four main categories of chronic injuries:
1. Pressure ulcers
These types of wounds affect the skin and underlying tissue and are most often a result of prolonged pressure on the skin. For example, if someone is in bed or a chair for an extended amount of time. Pressure ulcers develop gradually and can affect any part of the body. These types of wounds only get worse if not tended to so if you suspect that you or someone you are caring for has a pressure ulcer it’s important to speak to a healthcare professional or wound care specialist as soon as possible.
2. Diabetic ulcers
Diabetes makes a person more susceptible to wounds and ulcers. These open wounds are most often found on the legs or bottom of the feet. Research suggests that 15% of those with diabetes will experience diabetic foot ulcers in their lifetime. Due to the effect diabetes can have on the wound healing process this can be very dangerous and lead to serious infection and in some cases even gangrene. In fact, about 6% of those with a diabetic foot ulcer will be hospitalized because of infection or other related issues. Fortunately, diabetic ulcers can be treated by a wound care specialist and in many cases prevented entirely.
3. Venous ulcers
These leg ulcers most often form around the ankles and are caused by damage-related issues with blood circulation in your leg veins. Valves in our legs control blood pressure inside the veins. However, if the blood flow in these veins can’t drop as you walk it causes ulcers to form on the ankles. Other issues with leg veins can also cause venous ulcers such as varicose veins or chronic venous insufficiency. Like other non-healing wounds, venous ulcers require proper care to avoid infection and recover. Healthy habits that encourage blood flow and lifestyle changes can sometimes help prevent the vein problems responsible.
4. Arterial ulcers
Arterial ulcers also referred to as ischemic ulcers are typically caused by damage to the arteries. Our arteries deliver nutrients and oxygen to tissues in the body. When they become blocked, nutrients are unable to flow to the extremities resulting in an open wound that can continue to grow and become infected. Treatment for arterial ulcers involves restoring blood circulation to the injured area.
Non-healing surgical wounds are another type of injury and can occur after surgery when an incision doesn’t heal as expected. Although rare, this can be caused by infection.
What Causes Non-Healing Wounds?
Impaired wound healing is rarely due to one single cause, rather it’s a combination of factors responsible. Some of those contributing factors that can cause non-healing wounds include:
- Infection – when a wound becomes infected, the body works toward fighting harmful bacteria instead of healing. Bacteria can also delay healing by producing toxins and killing cells.
- Circulation Issues – diabetes, high blood pressure, and several other conditions cause poor circulation in the body. Poor circulation prevents nutrients and oxygen from getting to the wound and makes it more difficult to remove bacteria.
- Age – Older adults often get hurt more easily and their wounds don’t heal as quickly. Additionally, the elderly often have conditions that cause poor circulation and slow down the process.
- Repeated Trauma – wounds that suffer repeated trauma can delay the healing process.
- Medications – Certain medications can interfere with the body’s inflammatory response which in turn can slow healing.
Non-healing wounds can happen to anyone but some are more at risk than others. Those who might be more prone to chronic wounds include:
- If you have certain long term medical conditions like diabetes or cancer.
- If you have a weakened immune system or cardiovascular issues.
- If you have unhealthy habits like poor diet, not exercising or smoking.
- If you spend extended periods of time in a bed or wheelchair.
- If you have a history of ulcers and chronic wounds.
Symptoms of Non-Healing Wounds
As we discussed, it’s essential to be able to identify the symptoms of non-healing wounds. If you experience any of the below signs make sure to contact a wound care specialist as soon as possible:
- Increasing inflammation or redness around the wound.
- Pain that is getting worse or doesn’t seem to improve.
- Wounds that are weeping or leaking or start to smell bad.
- If the edges around the wound develop a dark or blueish color.
Treatment for Non-Healing Wounds
Your wound care specialist will work with you and recommend the ideal way to treat your non-healing wound or ulcer depending on the severity and type of injury. Treatment typically begins by gathering information about the patient and their wound history. This can help determine the appropriate course of treatment. In many cases, the underlying causes of the wound would first need to be addressed before healing can begin.
That said, below are a few general treatment approaches a wound care specialist might use that can help:
- Debridement to remove damaged tissue and prevent infection.
- Nutritional support and lifestyle recommendations that promote healing.
- Compression therapy to decrease venous pressure, reduce edema and help the body in moving blood around.
- Biopsies to evaluate the cause of the non-healing wound.
- Cryotherapy to accelerate the body’s natural healing process and reduce inflammation.
- Antibiotics and topical wound medication.
- Adjunctive therapies such as oxygen and pressure therapy.
Dressing Non-Healing Wounds
Wound dressing can be especially important to prepare the area for healing and control moisture levels. There are several different types of dressings and each one has unique properties that can impact how fast the wound heals. Unfortunately, there is no one dressing for every type of wound. Your wound care specialist can help determine the right type of dressing based on your individual circumstances, characteristics of the wound as well as the stage of healing.
Specialized Care for Chronic Wounds and Injuries
At our wound care center in Fresno, we are committed to providing high quality care to the patients we serve. From pressure and diabetic ulcers to vascular ulcers and more, our specialized wound care physicians and medical staff are equipped with the expertise in treating the full range of wound types and skin issues.
We pride ourselves in providing the full spectrum of wound care, including advanced therapies, such as debridement, biopsies, skin scrapings, cryotherapy, destruction of tissue, skin substitutes, compression devices, and more. Make an appointment at Wound Coast Wound and Skin Care today and let us help you heal and restore your quality of life.
If you are unable to come to our wound care center, our specialized staff will come to you wherever you reside.