AIM: This paper reports a study exploring patients' perceptions and experiences of the impact of a pressure ulcer and its treatment on their health and quality of life. BACKGROUND: Pressure ulcers are a significant health problem, and their prevention and management in primary and secondary care is high on the clinical and policy agenda. However, patients' perspectives and experiences of the impact of pressure ulcers on health and quality of life is not understood. METHOD: Qualitative semi-structured interviews were carried out from 2002 to 2004 with a purposive sample of 23 hospital inpatients (five men, 18 women: aged 33-92 years) with a pressure ulcer (graded 2-5) at various anatomical sites and with varied reasons for hospital admission. Data were analysed thematically. FINDINGS: The majority of participants (91%; n = 21) indicated that the pressure ulcer and its treatment affected their lives emotionally, mentally, physically and socially. They presented their perspectives on the causes of their pressure ulcer and descriptions of pain (experienced by 91%), appearance, smell and fluid leakage. Patients described amounts and quality of care they received, including levels of comfort of dressings and pressure relieving equipment and the timing of interventions. They were largely dependent on others to treat, manage and care for their ulcer, but indicated that the pain, discomfort and distress of pressure ulcers was not acknowledged by nursing staff. The pressure ulcers could be pivotal in preventing full recovery, were perceived to increase hospital stays and resulted in ongoing treatments. CONCLUSION: Healthcare professionals can learn from these patients' experiences about the management of dressings, providing information (in particular about realistic time expectations for healing), providing preventative interventions and understanding the importance of comfort and positioning for patients. The study highlights the complexities of evaluating the impact of pressure ulceration.
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