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Skin substitutes: Understanding product differences

Skin substitutes (also called tissuebased products and dermal replacements) are a boon to chronic wound management when traditional therapies have failed. When selecting skin substitutes for their formularies, wound care professionals have many product options—and many decisions to make.

Repair of skin defects has been a pressing concern for centuries. As early as the 15th century BC, Egyptian physicians chronicled procedures and herbal treatments to heal wounds, including xenografts (skin from another species). The practice of applying allografts (human cadaver skin) to wounds was first documented in 1503. In 1871, autologous skin grafting (skin harvested from the the person with the wound) was tried. Next came epithelial- cell seeding, which involves scraping off the superficial epithelium of healthy skin and transplanting the cells onto the wound. (more…)

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Frequently asked questions about support surfaces

The National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP) describes support surfaces as “specialized devices for pressure redistribution designed for management of tissue loads, microclimate, and/or other therapeutic functions.” These devices include specialized mattresses, mattress overlays, chair cushions, and pads used on transport stretchers, operating room (OR) tables, examination or procedure tables, and gurneys. Some support surfaces are part of an integrated bed system, which combines the bed frame and support surface into a single unit. (more…)

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Herpes zoster: Understanding the disease, its treatment, and prevention

Herpes zoster: Understanding the disease, its treatment, and prevention

Herpes zoster (HZ, also called shingles) is a painful condition that produces a maculopapular and vesicular rash. Usually, the rash appears along a single dermatome (band) around one side of the body or face.

In most cases, pain, tingling, burning, or itching occurs a few days before the rash. Next, blisters form, scabbing over in 7 to 10 days. In rare cases, the rash is widespread, resembling varicella zoster (VZ, or chickenpox) rash. Pain can range from mild to severe and may be dull, burning, or gnawing. It may last weeks, months, or even years after the blisters heal. Shingles on the face may impair vision or hearing. (more…)

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Knowing when to ask for help

As a wound care expert, you’re probably consulted for every eruption, scrape, and opening in a patient’s skin. Occasionally during a patient assessment, you may scratch your head and ask yourself, “What is this? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Most wound care experts want to help heal everyone, and most of us love a challenge. But when should we step back and consider referring the patient to another clinician? (more…)

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Clinician Resources: Pressure-Injuries, Ostomy, Lymphedema, Delirium

Here is a round-up of resources that you may find helpful in your practice.

New illustrations for pressure-injury staging

The National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP) has released new illustrations of pressure injury stages. You can download the illustrations, which include normal Caucasian and non-Caucasian skin illustrations for reference.

There is no charge for the illustrations as long as they are being used for educational purposes, but donations to support the work of NPUAP are appreciated. (more…)

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Clinical Notes: Healing SCI Patients, antiseptics on mahout, diabetes

Electrical stimulation

Electrical stimulation and pressure ulcer healing in SCI patients

A systematic review of eight clinical trials of 517 patients with spinal cord injury (SCI) and at least one pressure ulcer indicates that electrical stimulation increases the healing rate of pressure ulcers. Wounds with electrodes overlaying the wound bed seem to have faster pressureulcer healing than wounds with electrodes placed on intact skin around the ulcer. (more…)

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Our gold medal issue: Best of the Best 2016

This issue marks the fourth anniversary of the “Best of the Best” issue of Wound Care Advisor, the official journal of the National Alliance of Wound Care and Ostomy. Fittingly, it comes during an Olympics year. Since 1904, the Olympics have awarded gold medals to athletes whose performance makes them the “best of the best.” This year, we’re proud to present our own “Best of the Best” in print format. (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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Clinician Resources

Wound patient’s bill of rights

The Association for Advancement of Wound Care has developed the “Wound Care Patient’s Bill of Rights.” The 10 points include the right to:

know what wound treatment options are available to you

know the benefits, risks, and side effects of your wound care treatments

participate in the development of your treatment plan with your wound care team

have your pain adequately controlled.

The bill of rights is available in both English and Spanish. (more…)

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Practicing emotional intelligence may help reduce lateral violence

It’s been a stressful day at work—nothing new. One confused patient pulled off her ostomy bag, you’re having difficulties applying negative-pressure wound therapy on another, and a third patient’s family is

angry with you. We all experience stressful days, but unfortunately, sometimes we take our stress out on each other. Too often, this ineffective way of identifying and managing stress leads nurses to engage in lateral violence. (more…)

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Understanding NPUAP’s updates to pressure ulcer terminology and staging

On April 13, 2016, the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel (NPUAP) announced changes in pressure ulcer terminology and staging definitions. Providers can adapt NPUAP’s changes for their clinical practice and documentation, but it’s important to note that, as of press time, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has not adopted the changes. This means that providers can’t use NPUAP’s updates when completing CMS assessment forms, such as the Minimum Data Set (MDS) or Outcome and Assessment Information Set (OASIS). Instead, they must code the CMS assessment forms according to current CMS instructions and definitions. In addition, there is no ICD-10 code for pressure injury. (more…)

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