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New Treatments Help Heal Problem Wounds

Human skin is an amazing self-repairing organ. But for an increasing number of people, age, obesity, and/or diabetes interfere with the body's ability to heal. As a result, 6.5 million Americans seek treatment for chronic wounds each year.

Fortunately, doctors' knowledge of how to help the healing process is growing all the time.

"Wound healing is a complex and dynamic process," said Louis Ruvolo, MD, medical director of the Wound Healing Center at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County. "While we work to resolve the wound, it's just as important to address the reason for the wound, such as diabetes or vascular disease."

When to Seek Help
Wounds can occur after an accident, injury or surgical procedure. One of the most common types of wounds is a pressure ulcer. Ulcers can form when you stay in one position for a long time, such as if you're in a wheelchair or recovering from surgery. People with diabetes often get ulcers on their feet because their nerves or blood vessels are damaged.

While minor cuts and scrapes usually get better after you wash them with water, apply an antibiotic and cover them with a sterile bandage, they can turn into chronic wound if you:

  • Have diabetes
  • Smoke
  • Take certain medicines, including corticosteroids
  • Are chronically ill or in poor nutrition
  • Have heart, liver or vascular disease

Most wounds are red and bleed at first. But call your doctor if your wound has not started to heal in two weeks or hasn't totally healed in six weeks, said Dr. Ruvolo. Also seek medical help if:

  • The wound is deep or large
  • You have severe pain
  • Have increased redness, or redness spreading more than half an inch from the wound
  • The wound oozes a thick, gray, creamy fluid or gives off a foul odor
  • You are numb around the wound
  • You have a fever of 100 degrees or higher

"Even a minor wound can become infected and cause serious health problems, especially if you have diabetes," said Dr. Ruvolo.

Cutting-Edge Therapies
If your wound doesn't heal as quickly as your doctor thinks it should, he or she may refer you to a specialized wound care center (such as the Lourdes Center for Advanced Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center and the Wound Healing Center at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County).

The types of advanced treatments you'll receive may include:

  • Improved dressings. Some contain silver to fight infections. Others act as skin substitutes.
  • Skin substitutes. An increasing array of skin substitutes, which have skin cells and healing substances, are available to wound care specialists.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. You'll get in a special chamber with pure oxygen and higher air pressure. This helps your blood carry more healing oxygen to your wound.
  • Negative pressure wound therapy. This device creates a vacuum that removes fluid and brings the edges of a wound together.
  • Autologous platelet-rich plasma (PRP). Made from your own blood, PRP delivers a high dose of naturally healing compounds to your wound.

As researchers continue to study wounds, even more new therapies may become available. For instance, soon, you may see "smart dressings" with electronic sensors. They'll give your doctor important information about how your healing is progressing. This will help the doctor choose the best treatment and ensure it is working.

"Chronic wounds can lead to disability and compromise your quality of life," said Dr. Ruvolo. "If you have a non-healing wound, seek treatment."

Help When Wounds Won't Heal
The Wound Healing Center at Lourdes Medical Center of Burlington County in Willingboro and the Lourdes Center for Advanced Wound Healing and Hyperbaric Medicine at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden use advanced therapies to promote faster healing and an improved quality of life.

Call 1-888-LOURDES (1-888-568-7337) to learn more.

Last reviewed: April 2013

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