Pressure ulcers are caused by remaining in the same position for too long, which restricts blood flow and can kill the tissue. Also known as bed sores, they are difficult to prevent in fragile patients, particularly those who are bedridden. Those who are malnourished are more at risk as they do not have the ability to repair damaged tissue. For this reason, the nursing home community has long believed that the use of feeding tubes to provide nutrients to bedridden residents can help prevent and treat pressure sores.
According to US News and World Report, a new study shows that feeding tubes actually increase the risk of bed sores. Many patients are agitated by feeding tubes, which then leads facilities to restrain or sedate them. Sedation sharply increases the risk of a nursing home patient developing a pressure sore. Feeding tubes can also cause diarrhea, which can lead to the very malnourishment and dehydration medical personnel was attempting to avoid by using the tube.
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Examining data from Medicare claims, researchers found that in patients who did not initially have a pressure sore, the risk of developing one increased 15.8 percent. Patients with feeding tubes are 2.27 times more likely to develop a stage 2 bed sore (an open sore on the top layer of skin) and 3.21 times more likely to develop a stage 4 pressure sore (a deep sore that extends into muscle or bone).
The study did not do an in depth examination of why nursing home patients developed bed sores when feeding tubes were used. In addition to the medical issues, feeding tubes may lead to nursing home neglect. Feeding tubes remove some of the human interaction patients would normally receive, allowing a machine to do the work. When staff members are not present, these sores can develop unnoticed and therefore go untreated.