Nonhealing Wounds: When a Band-Aid Wound Suffice
For most people, cuts and scratches heal within a matter of days or weeks. But for those whose natural healing process is hampered, a simple sore can become a complex wound. Without proper treatment, the wound can interfere with a person’s physical activity and quality of life and even be debilitating.
Each year, more than 6 million Americans seek treatment for nonhealing wounds. These often are caused by diabetes, poor blood circulation, bed sores, collagen vascular disease, traumatic injury or radiation exposure. Wound prevention and care is especially paramount for the 23.6 million people in this country with diabetes, 15 percent of whom will develop a foot ulcer and up to a quarter of whom will need an amputation.
According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 60 percent of nontraumatic lower-limb amputations occur in people with diabetes. The amputation rate for this group is 10 times higher than in the rest of the population.
“People who have diabetes are vulnerable to nerve and vascular damage that can result in loss of sensation in the feet, poor circulation and inadequate healing of foot ulcers. These conditions contribute to their high amputation rate,” said Matthew J. Finnegan, MD, FACS, a board-certified surgeon at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center and co-medical director of the Lourdes Center for Advanced Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine.
What is a Nonhealing Wound?
Nonhealing, or chronic, wounds are defined as those that have not started to heal in two weeks or haven’t healed completely in six weeks. Other warning signs include:
- persistent, increased pain in the area of the wound;
- discoloration, such as a dark or bluish color, near the borders of the wound;
- increased drainage from the wound.
“For a patient with a nonhealing wound, it is important to address the underlying cause. In people with diabetes, for example, the disease can affect many of the body’s systems,” Dr. Finnegan said. “An interdisciplinary approach is necessary to get the best possible outcome.”
At a specialized wound care center, treatment plans include gels and ointments that keep the wound clean and promote new tissue growth. Patients also may need to have some skin removed, or to undergo skin grafts or noninvasive vascular intervention.
At both Lourdes Health System hospitals, hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) medicine therapy also is available. HBO therapy involves breathing 100 percent oxygen at an elevated pressure. In this environment, 20 times more oxygen travels through the bloodstream to injured organs and tissue, accelerating the healing process.
Treatment also may involve education, changes in diet and the use of special beds, seat cushions and footwear.
Matthew Finnegan, MD
For more information about Dr. Finnegan or another Lourdes expert, call 1-888-LOURDES (568-7337) or visit the Lourdes Health System Web site at www.lourdesnet.org and click on “Find a Physician.”