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Providing evidence-based care for patients with lower-extremity cellulitis

By Darlene Hanson, PhD, RN; Diane Langemo, PhD, RN, FAAN; Patricia Thompson, MS, RN; Julie Anderson, PhD, RN; and Keith Swanson, MD

Cellulitis is an acute, painful, and potentially serious spreading bacterial skin infection that affects mainly the subcutaneous and dermal layers. Usually of an acute onset, it’s marked by redness, warmth, swelling, and tenderness. Borders of the affected skin are characteristically irregular. Although cellulitis may occur in many body areas, this article discusses the most common location—the lower limb. (more…)

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Antibiotic use in pressure injury infections

antibiotic overuse pressure injury infection

Antibiotic overuse contributes to the problems of antibiotic resistance and healthcare acquired infections, such as Clostridium difficile. Antibiotic stewardship programs improve patient outcomes, reduce antimicrobial resistance, and save money. These programs are designed to ensure patients receive the right antibiotic, at the right dose, at the right time, and for the right duration. (more…)

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Necrotizing Fasciitis: Pearls & Pitfalls

thigh fluid gas ct scan

A 39-year-old woman presents to the ED with leg pain and fever. She initially noted redness and pain above her knee 2 weeks ago and was evaluated at an outside hospital. She completed a 10-day course of oral antibiotics for cellulitis. Over the last two days, she has had progressive leg swelling of her entire right thigh. The pain is now so severe that she is having difficulty walking. Her past medical history is negative for diabetes mellitus, chronic liver disease, or alcohol and IV drug use.

On exam, she is febrile to 102.7 F, heart rate is 96 bpm, and blood pressure is 112/65. She has a 12 cm area of faint erythema on her right thigh and tenderness to palpation of her entire right leg with diffuse edema. There is no ecchymosis or bullae formation. (more…)

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How are you differentiating the “big three”?

BY: NANCY MORGAN, RN, BSN, MBA, WOCN, WCC, CWCMS, DWC
Lower extremity ulcers are often referred as the “big three”—arterial ulcers, venous ulcers, and diabetic foot ulcers. Are you able to properly identify them based on their characteristics? Sometimes, it’s a challenge to differentiate them.

Arterial ulcers tend occur the tips of toes, over phalangeal heads, around the lateral malleolus, on the middle portion of the tibia, and on areas subject to trauma. These ulcers are deep, pale, and often necrotic, with minimal granulation tissue. Surrounding skin commonly is pale, cool, thin, and hairless; toenails tend to be thick. Arterial ulcers tend to be dry with minimal drainage, and often are associated with significant pain. The patient usually has diminished or absent pulses. (more…)

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Managing chronic venous leg ulcers — what’s the latest evidence?

Managing chronic venous leg ulcers — what’s the latest evidence?

Chronic venous leg ulcers (CVLUs) affect nearly 2.2 million Americans annually, including an estimated 3.6% of people over the age of 65. Given that CVLU risk increases with age, the global incidence is predicted to escalate dramatically because of the growing population of older adults. Annual CVLU treatment-related costs to the U.S. healthcare system alone are upwards of $3.5 billion, which are directly related to long healing times and recurrence rates of over 50%.

CVLUs are not only challenging and costly to treat, but the associated morbidity significantly reduces quality of life. That makes it critical for clinicians to choose evidence-based treatment strategies to achieve maximum healing outcomes and minimize recurrence rates of these common debilitating conditions. These strategies, which include compression therapy, specialized dressings, topical and oral medications, and surgery, are used to reduce edema, facilitate healing, and avert recurrence. (more…)

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Lymphedema and lipedema: What every wound care clinician should know

Imagine you have a health condition that affects your life every day. Then imagine being told nothing can be done about it; you’ll just have to live with it. Or worse yet, your physician tells you the problem is “you’re just fat.”

Many people with lymphedema or lipedema have no idea their condition has a name or that many other people suffer from the same thing. Although lymphedema and lipedema can’t be cured, proper management and resources can help patients cope. This article improves your grasp of these conditions, describes how to recognize and manage them, and explains how to support your patients.

To understand lymphedema and lipedema, first you need to understand how the lymphatic system functions. It makes lymph, then moves it from tissues to the bloodstream. It also plays a major role in the immune system, aiding immune defense. In addition, it helps maintain normal fluid balance by promoting fluid movement from the interstitial tissues back to the venous circulation. (See Lymphatic system: Four major functions.)

If the lymphatic system is impaired from a primary (hereditary or congenital) condition or a secondary problem, lymphedema can result. In this chronic, potentially progressive, and incurable condition, protein-rich fluid accumulates in the interstitial tissues.

Lymphedema basics

Lymphedema occurs in four stages.

Stage 0. During this stage (also called the subclinical or latency stage), transport capacity of the lymphatic system decreases but remains sufficient to manage normal lymphatic loads. Signs and symptomsaren’t evident and can be measured only by sensitive instruments, such as bioimpedance spectroscopy and optoelectronic volumetry. Without such instruments to quantify volume changes, diagnosis may rest on subjective complaints.

In this stage, limited functional reserve of the lymphatic system leads to a fragile balance between subnormal transport capacity and lymphatic loads. Added stress on the lymphatic system (as from extended heat or cold exposure, injury, or infection) may cause progression to stage 1.

Providing appropriate patient information and education, especially after surgery, can dramatically reduce the risk that lymphedema will progress to a more serious stage.

Stage 1. Considered the spontaneously reversible stage, stage 1 is marked by softtissue pliability without fibrotic changes. Pitting can be induced easily. In early stage 1, limb swelling may recede over – night. With proper management, the patient can expect the extremity to decrease to a normal size compared to that of the uninvolved limb. Otherwise, lymphedema is likely to progress to stage 2.

Stage 1 lymphedema may be hard to distinguish from edemas from other causes. Clinicians must rely on the patient history and monitor for swelling resolution with conventional management, such as compression and elevation, or note if swelling persists despite these standard interventions.

Stage 2. Sometimes called the spontaneously irreversible stage, stage 2 is identified mainly from tissue proliferation and subsequent fibrosis (called lymphostatic fibrosis). The fluid component can be removed spontaneously, but removal of the increased tissue proliferation (initially irreversible) takes more time. Tissue proliferation stems from long-standing accumulation of protein-rich fluid; over time, the tissue hardens and pitting is hard to induce. In many cases, swelling volume increases, exacerbating the already compromised local immune defense.

Consequently, infections (particularly cellulitis) are common; these, in turn, increase the volume of the affected area. Proper treatment can reduce volume.

With proper care (complete decongestive therapy [CDT]), lymphedema can stabilize during stage 2. But patients with chronic or recurrent infections are likely to progress to stage 3.

Stage 3. Also called lymphostatic elephantiasis, this stage is marked by further fluid volume increases and progression of tissue changes. Lymphostatic fibrosis becomes firmer and other skin alterations may occur, including papillomas, cysts, fistulas, hyperkeratosis, fungal infections, and ulcers. Pitting may be present. Natural skinfolds deepen (especially those of the dorsum of the wrist or ankle) and, in many cases, cellulitis recurs.

If lymphedema management starts during this stage, reduction can still occur. Even in extreme cases, with proper care and patient adherence to treatment, lymphostatic elephantiasis can be reduced so the leg is a normal or near-normal size.

Assessment and diagnosis

A thorough physical examination is the gold standard for diagnosing lymphedema. A complete patient history, body-systems review, inspection, and palpation can help determine if edema is lymphedema.

Clinically, the only test with proven reliability and validity in diagnosing lymphedema is the Stemmer sign. Fibrotic changes associated with lymphedema can lead to thickened skin over the proximal phalanges of the toes or fingers. If you can’t tent or pinch the skin on the involved extremity, lymphedema is present (a positive Stemmer sign). However, a negative finding (soft, pliable tissue) doesn’t rule out  lymphedema because the condition may be in an early stage, before tissue proliferation and fibrosis have set in.

Management

Although incurable, lymphedema can be managed successfully through CDT. This approach involves proper identification of lymphedema, manual lymph drainage, skin and nail care, patient education, compression, and exercise.

CDT has two phases:

Phase I, the intensive phase, continues until the extremity has decongested or reached a plateau. The clinician provides treatments and educates the patient about all aspects of CDT to prepare him or her for phase II. Phase I can last several weeks to several months depending on lymphedema severity.

Phase II, the maintenance phase, begins once the extremity has decongested or plateaued. This phase still focuses on CDT, but now the patient, not the clinician, is responsible for all care. The goal is to reduce limb size while enabling the patient to become self-sufficient in managing lymphedema. Although CDT can bring significant improvements in limb size, skin quality, and function, patients must remember that phase II continues lifelong. Be sure to provide education about ongoing self-management strategies.

Lipedema: The disease they call “fat”

Lipedema is a painful disorder of fat deposition. Pathologic deposition of fatty tissue (usually below the waist) leads to progressive leg enlargement. Like lymphedema, lipedema is incurable but manageable. Unless managed properly, lipedema can reduce mobility, interfere with activities of daily living, and lead to secondary lymphedema. (See Lipedema stages.)

Lipedema commonly is misdiagnosed as lymphedema. However, lymphedema involves protein-rich fluid, whereas lip edema is a genetically mediated fat disorder. Because lipedema resists diet and exercise, it can lead to psychosocial complications. Lipedema occurs almost exclusively in women; typically, onset occurs between puberty and age 30. One unpublished epidemiologic study puts lip edema incidence in females at 11%. Some patients have a combination of lipedema and lymphedema. (See Viewing lipolymphedema.)

Assessment and diagnosis

As with lymphedema, lipedema diagnosis rests on clinical presentation. Lipedema characteristics include bilateral and symmetrical involvement, absence of pitting (because lipedema isn’t a fluid disorder), soft and pliable skin, and filling of the retromalleolar sulcus (called the fat pad sign.)

Key signs and symptoms include:

• feeling of heaviness in the legs (aching dysesthesia)

• easy bruising

• sensitivity to touch (called “painful fat syndrome”)

• orthostatic edema

• oatmeal-like changes to skin texture.

Nearly half of lipedema patients are overweight or obese, but many appear of normal weight from the waist up. Essentially, the upper and lower extremities don’t match. The lower extremities typically show fatty deposits extending from the iliac crest to the ankles, sparing the feet. (See Lipedema patterns.)

Management

Lipedema is best  managed through weight control, as additional weight gain through adipose tissue tends to deposit in the legs. For patients with concomitant lymphedema (lipolymphedema), modified CDT helps reduce and manage lymphatic compromise. To address excess fat deposition, newer “wet” liposuction techniques have proven beneficial. These techniques gently detach adipose cells from the tissue, helping to preserve connective tissue and lymphatic vessels.

Know what to look for

In both lymphedema and lipedema, early identification and proper diagnosis are key. (See Differentiating lymphedema and lipedema.) A thorough history and physical exam will likely lead to an accurate diagnosis, if clinicians know what to look for. Proper diagnosis and treatment can prevent expensive and ineffective interventions, which can negatively affect both the patient’s condition and psychological well being.

Heather Hettrick is an associate professor at Nova Southeastern University, Department of Physical Therapy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Selected references

Fat Disorders Research Society. Lipedema description.

Fife CE, Maus EA, Carter MJ. Lipedema: a frequently misdiagnosed and misunderstood fatty deposition syndrome. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2010;23(2):81-92

Herbst KL. Rare adipose disorders (RADS) masquerading as obesity. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2012;33(2):155-72.

Lipedema Project.

National Lymphedema Network. Position papers.

Schmeller W, Hueppe M, Meier-Vollrath I. Tumescent liposuction in lipoedema yields good long-term results. Br J Dermatol. 2012;166(1):161-8.

Zuther J. A closer look at lipedema and the effects on the lymphatic system. December 13, 2012. lymphedemablog.com/2012/12/13/a-closer-look-at-lipedema-and-the-effects-on-the-lymphatic-system/

Zuther J. Stages of lymphedema. October 3, 2012.

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Preparing the wound bed: Basic strategies, novel methods

The goal of wound-bed preparation is to create a stable, well-vascularized environment that aids healing of chronic wounds. Without proper preparation, even the most expensive wound-care products and devices are unlikely to produce positive outcomes.

To best prepare the wound bed, you need to understand wound healing physiology and wound care basics, as well as how to evaluate the patient’s overall health and manage wounds that don’t respond to treatment. (See Normal wound healing.) (more…)

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“Best of the Best” three-peat

By: Donna Sardina, RN, MHA, WCC, CWCMS

What do the Los Angeles Lakers, Green Bay Packers, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Yankees have in common? All three have “three-peated”, meaning they have won three consecutive championships. This year, we at Wound Care Advisor, the official journal of the National Alliance of Wound Care and Ostomy (NAWCO), mark our own three-peat—our third annual “Best of the Best” issue. (more…)

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2015 Journal: Best of the Best Vol. 4 No. 5

Wound Care Advisor Journal Best of the Best vol.4 no5

Evolution of the deep tissue injury or a declining pressure ulcer?

A declining pressure ulcer decreases the quality of life for patients and places providers at risk for regulatory citations and litigation. But it’s important for clinicians to determine whether the first appearance of skin injury is truly a stage I or II pressure ulcer or if it’s a deep tissue injury (DTI), a unique staging category for a pressure ulcer. Otherwise, a clinician might think a pressure ulcer is getting worse instead of the change being the normal progression of a pressure ulcer that is presenting as a DTI.

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“Best of the Best” three-peat

By: Donna Sardina, RN, MHA, WCC, CWCMS What do the Los Angeles Lakers, Green Bay Packers, Montreal Canadiens, and New York Yankees have in common? All three have “three-peated”, meaning they have won three consecutive championships. This year, we at Wound Care Advisor, the official journal of the National Alliance of Wound Care and Ostomy (NAWCO), mark our own three-peat—our…

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Clinical Notes

Mild compression diabetic socks safe and effective for lower extremity edema Diabetic socks with mild compression can reduce lower extremity edema in patients with diabetes without adversely affecting arterial circulation, according to a randomized control trial presented at the American Diabetes Association 75th Scientific Sessions Conference.

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Clinician Resources: NPUAP, Pressure Ulcer Treatment, NIOSH

The resources below will help you address issues in your practice. NPUAP position statement on hand check for bottoming out Use of the hand check to determine “bottoming out” of support systems should be limited to static air overlay mattresses, according to a position statement from the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP).

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Creating effective education programs on a shoestring budget

By Jennifer Oakley, BS, RN, WCC, DWC, OMS It’s time again for annual staff education, and you, the certified wound clinician, need to teach the staff at your organization. You dream of staff entering a state-of-the-art classroom with computers at each station, mannequins, wound anatomy models, and enough products for each student to do hands-on demonstrations. But when you open…

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Evolution of the deep tissue injury or a declining pressure ulcer?

 By Jeri Lundgren, BSN, RN, PHN, CWS, CWCN A declining pressure ulcer decreases the quality of life for patients and places providers at risk for regulatory citations and litigation. But it’s important for clinicians to determine whether the first appearance of skin injury is truly a stage I or II pressure ulcer or if it’s a deep tissue injury (DTI),…

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Get the ‘SKINNI’ on reducing pressure ulcers

By Cindy Barefield, BSN, RN-BC, CWOCN Like many hospitals, Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital uses national benchmarks such as the National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators (NDNQI®) to measure quality outcomes. Based on benchmark reports that showed an increased trend of pressure ulcers in critically ill patients in our hospital, the clinical nurses in our Critical Care Shared Governance Unit-Based…

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Helping patients overcome ostomy challenges

By Beth Hoffmire Heideman, MSN, RN No one wants an ostomy, but sometimes it’s required to save a patient’s life. As ostomy specialists, our role is to assess and intervene for patients with a stoma or an ostomy to enhance their quality of life. We play an active role in helping patients perform self-care for their ostomy and adjust to…

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how to assess wound exudate

How to assess wound exudate

By Nancy Morgan, RN, BSN, MBA, WOC, WCC, DWC, OMS Each issue, Apple Bites brings you a tool you can apply in your daily practice. Exudate (drainage), a liquid produced by the body in response to tissue damage, is present in wounds as they heal. It consists of fluid that has leaked out of blood vessels and closely resembles blood…

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Medical gauze 101

By Nancy Morgan, RN, BSN, MBA, WOC, WCC, DWC, OMS Each issue, Apple Bites brings you a tool you can apply in your daily practice. Medical gauze, a bleached white cloth or fabric used in bandages, dressings, and surgical sponges, is the most widely used wound care dressing. Commonly known as “4×4s,” gauze is made from fibers of cotton, rayon,…

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Palliative wound care: Part 1

By Gail Rogers Hebert, MS, RN, CWCN, WCC, DWC, OMS, LNHA The World Health Organization defines palliative care as “an approach that improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other…

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Providing evidence-based care for patients with lower-extremity cellulitis

By Darlene Hanson, PhD, RN; Diane Langemo, PhD, RN, FAAN; Patricia Thompson, MS, RN; Julie Anderson, PhD, RN; and Keith Swanson, MD Cellulitis is an acute, painful, and potentially serious spreading bacterial skin infection that affects mainly the subcutaneous and dermal layers. Usually of an acute onset, it’s marked by redness, warmth, swelling, and tenderness. Borders of the affected skin…

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2015 Journal: Best of the Best Vol. 4 No. 5
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2015 Journal: May – June Vol. 4 No. 3

Wound Care Advisor Journal Vol4 No3

Get the ‘SKINNI’ on reducing pressure ulcers

Like many hospitals, Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital uses national benchmarks such as the National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators (NDNQI®) to measure quality outcomes. Based on benchmark reports that showed an increased trend of pressure ulcers in critically ill patients in our hospital, the clinical nurses in our Critical Care Shared Governance Unit-Based Council (CCSGUBC) identified an improvement opportunity.

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A collaborative approach to wound care and lymphedema therapy: Part 1

By Erin Fazzari, MPT, CLT, CWS, DWC Have you seen legs like those shown in the images below in your practice? These images show lymphedema and venous stasis ulcers, illustrating the importance of collaboration between clinicians in two disciplines: lymphedema and wound care.

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Ankle-brachial index: A dirty word?

Donna Sardina, RN, MHA, WCC, CWCMS, DWC, OMS Silence, roving eyes, fidgeting, excuses, a quick subject change—these are typical responses from healthcare clinicians when asked, “What’s the patient’s ankle-brachial index?” You’d think someone had just uttered a dirty word. The ankle-brachial index (ABI) is a key component of the lower-extremity vascular exam, recommended and in some cases mandated by numerous…

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Clinical Notes: diabetes, LMW heparin, dressings, lymphedema

Factors affecting medication adherence in patients with diabetes identified Factors associated with better adherence to antidiabetic medications taken by patients with diabetes include older age, male sex, higher education, higher income, use of mail-order vs. retail pharmacies, primary care vs. nonendocrinology specialist prescribers, higher daily total pill burden, and lower out-of-pocket costs.

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Clinician Resources: Nutrition, Workplace Violence, Pressure Injuries

Learn about resources useful to your practice. Nutrition and pressure ulcers Advances in Skin & Wound Care has published “The role of nutrition for pressure ulcer management: National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel, European Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel, and Pan Pacific Pressure Injury Alliance White Paper.” The white paper includes evidence-based nutrition strategies for preventing and managing pressure ulcers.

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Creating high-performance interprofessional teams

By Terry Eggenberger, PhD, RN, CNE, CNL; Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN; and Kathryn Keller, PhD, RN Kate Summer, a wound care clinician in a urban hospital, is leading an initiative to reduce pressure ulcers. She knows from experience that more effective communication and collaborative planning by the interdisciplinary team managing these patients is crucial for reducing pressure…

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Get the ‘SKINNI’ on reducing pressure ulcers

By Cindy Barefield, BSN, RN-BC, CWOCN Like many hospitals, Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital uses national benchmarks such as the National Database of Nursing Quality Indicators (NDNQI®) to measure quality outcomes. Based on benchmark reports that showed an increased trend of pressure ulcers in critically ill patients in our hospital, the clinical nurses in our Critical Care Shared Governance Unit-Based…

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Helping patients overcome ostomy challenges

By Beth Hoffmire Heideman, MSN, RN No one wants an ostomy, but sometimes it’s required to save a patient’s life. As ostomy specialists, our role is to assess and intervene for patients with a stoma or an ostomy to enhance their quality of life. We play an active role in helping patients perform self-care for their ostomy and adjust to…

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Helping patients with lower-extremity disease benefit from exercise

By Jeri Lundgren, BSN, RN, PHN, CWS, CWCN Research has shown that exercise can help ease symptoms in patients with arterial insufficiency, venous insufficiency, neuropathic disease, or a combination of these conditions. Here’s what you need to know to ensure your patients reap the most benefits from exercise.

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Moldable ostomy barrier rings and strips

By Nancy Morgan, RN, BSN, MBA, WOC, WCC, DWC, OMS Each issue, Apple Bites brings you a tool you can apply in your daily practice. Here’s a brief overview on moldable, bendable, and stretchable adhesive rings and strips used to improve the seal around a stoma. Benefits Adhesive rings and strips can be an alternative to stoma paste for filling…

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Providing evidence-based care for patients with lower-extremity cellulitis

By Darlene Hanson, PhD, RN; Diane Langemo, PhD, RN, FAAN; Patricia Thompson, MS, RN; Julie Anderson, PhD, RN; and Keith Swanson, MD Cellulitis is an acute, painful, and potentially serious spreading bacterial skin infection that affects mainly the subcutaneous and dermal layers. Usually of an acute onset, it’s marked by redness, warmth, swelling, and tenderness. Borders of the affected skin…

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2015 Journal: May – June Vol. 4 No. 3
Click here to access the digital edition
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Using maggots in wound care: Part 1

maggots in wound care

By: Ronald A. Sherman, MD; Sharon Mendez, RN, CWS; and Catherine McMillan, BA

Maggot therapy is the controlled, therapeutic application of maggots to a wound. Simple to use, it provides rapid, precise, safe, and powerful debridement. Many wound care professionals don’t provide maggot therapy (also called wound myiasis) because they lack training. But having maggot therapy technology available for patients adds to your capabilities as a wound care provider. (more…)

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Managing venous stasis ulcers

Managing chronic venous leg ulcers — what’s the latest evidence?

By Kulbir Dhillon, MSN, FNP, APNP, WCC

Venous disease, which encompasses all conditions caused by or related to diseased or abnormal veins, affects about 15% of adults. When mild, it rarely poses a problem, but as it worsens, it can become crippling and chronic.

Chronic venous disease often is overlooked by primary and cardiovascular care providers, who underestimate its magnitude and impact. Chronic venous insufficiency (CVI) causes hypertension in the venous system of the legs, leading to various pathologies that involve pain, swelling, edema, skin changes, stasis dermatitis, and ulcers. An estimated 1% of the U.S. population suffers from venous stasis ulcers (VSUs). Causes of VSUs include inflammatory processes resulting in leukocyte activation, endothelial damage, platelet aggregation, and intracellular edema. Preventing VSUs is the most important aspect of CVI management. (more…)

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