What can you do about your chronic wound?
If you’re bold and have a strong stomach, Google “chronic wound” and look at the images. You’ll see the worst-case scenarios of what can happen when a wound won’t heal - and it’s not easy to look at.
Kent Marcuson, M.D., is medical director at Sentara Wound Healing Center in Williamsburg, Va., and has seen plenty of similar cases in patients who waited too long to get a chronic wound checked out.
"One patient had an inflammatory wound associated with cancer that destroyed all the tissue from the ankle to the knee," he recalls. "It had persisted for two years prior to evaluation in our clinic."
"Another patient had a chronic infection in the bone of the leg and a heavily draining, very large chronic open wound that had been present for 10 years," he adds.
These patients probably never thought their wounds would fester so badly, which is why they — and too many others — put off getting care for a chronic wound for way too long.
Depending on the location of the wound, you may be self-conscious about its appearance. You may avoid wearing certain clothes that reveal the wound. Or your mobility may be limited, reducing your ability to exercise and stay in shape.
The point is that these are unnecessary limitations that can be addressed if you seek treatment for your chronic wound.
Why is proper medical care important if you have a chronic wound?
When it comes to chronic wound care, "the most important decision is to see a health professional and get evaluated," Dr. Marcuson says.
But a lot of people don’t, for a number of reasons.
"Lack of access to care, lack of knowledge about the importance of early wound treatment and other severe medical problems take precedence over the wound," Dr. Marcuson says. "Patients — and some physicians — are not aware of the ability to heal wounds that in the past were considered untreatable and resign themselves to living with a wound that can actually be healed."
Why do some people’s bodies have a hard time healing?
There are a number of reasons why a person’s body may not be able to heal a wound properly, says the National Institutes of Health.
Infection — This can both make wounds larger and slow down the healing process
Diabetes — People with diabetes are more likely to have chronic wounds
Varicose veins and arteriosclerosis — Both of these conditions cause poor blood flow, which hinders healing
Obesity — Not only are obese people at an increased risk for infection after surgery, excess body weight can also put tension on stitches, causing them to break open
Age — Generally, older people’s wounds heal more slowly than younger people’s wounds
Alcohol — Excessive drinking can increase a person’s risk for post-surgical complications and slow the healing process
Smoking — Like drinking, cigarettes can delay the healing process after surgery. Smokers are also at risk for infections and wounds breaking open.
Stress — Common side effects of stress include poor sleep and eating habits as well as increased likelihood of drinking and smoking, all of which can slow a person’s ability to heal
Medications — Some medications, including painkillers known as NSAIDs, can also slow wound healing
When should you go to the hospital for a chronic wound?
According to Dr. Marcuson, here are a few signs that mean it’s time to have a doctor look at your wound:
- Infection in the wound itself or surrounding tissues
- Excessive drainage
- Pressure affecting the wound
- Uncontrolled inflammation in the wound tissue
- Inadequate or sluggish blood flow to the injured tissue
- Excessive swelling around the wound
"Many times there are multiple problems active at once that prevent a wound from healing, and all of these issues need to be addressed and treated in order to heal a chronic wound," Dr. Marcuson says.
"If a wound has not shown signs of improvement — such as decreasing in size — by two weeks, or if it fails to heal by four weeks after the initial injury, then these are wounds that should be seen and evaluated."