Chronic Wounds Affect 6.5 Million in U.S.


Chronic wounds are affecting more people in the U.S. — but wound care clinics are helping them heal

Known as the silent epidemic, chronic wounds, or wounds that are slow to heal currently affect 6.5 million people in the U.S. and the numbers will likely increase, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

If untreated, chronic wounds can lead to loss of limbs or even death. This epidemic is largely unknown because individuals with slow-healing wounds often have another chronic condition that can lead to morbidity.

Wounds that are slow to heal are a problem worldwide: 1 to 2 percent of the total population are projected to experience a chronic wound during their lifetime in developed countries.

An aging population and increases in diabetes and obesity are contributing factors to rising need for wound care. Chronic wounds are increasing for several reasons, including a sharp rise in the prevalence of obesity (which is strongly associated with the development of diabetes), an aging population, and a rapidly expanding need for wound care services for veterans.

Wound care clinics can help slow-healing wounds heal better and faster — and save limbs and save lives

“A good wound clinic should have the technology and equipment medically engineered to evaluate wounds and help them heal better and faster, to provide a better quality of life for patients,” says Bill Tettelbach, MD, medical director for Wound Care Services and Hyperbaric Medicine at Intermountain Healthcare. “Wound clinics and caregivers have the capacity to save limbs and save lives.”

A five-year study reported by Medscape (“Wound Care Outcomes and Associated Cost Among Patients Treated in U.S. Outpatient Wound Centers”) shows the impact of wound care clinics. Out of 5,240 wound patients treated over five years at U.S. outpatient wound centers, 66.8 percent were healed by their final visit, according to data from the U.S. Wound Registry from 2005–2010. More details are at

Types of wounds treated at wound clinics

Dr. Tettelbach says wound clinics treat the following common conditions:

  • Diabetic wounds
  • Pressure ulcers (bed sores), which commonly affect individuals who are bedridden, wheelchair-bound, suffer from impaired sensation, or are malnourished. 
  • Swelling and ulcers in the lower legs and feet
  • Ulcers related to venous or arterial disease
  • Wounds due to an injury, accident, surgery, or exposure to chemicals, which aren’t healing properly

Specialized treatments and patient compliance promote wound healing. 

Specialized treatments available at wound clinics typically use optimal temperature, moisture, and pressure on wounds to promote healing.

Patients and their home caregivers are usually taught to reduce the chance of infection or keep new wounds from occurring by learning how to keep the wound dry, clean, and intact, and to promote blood flow. They learn how to change bandages and dressings, identify indicators of possible infection, and protect wounds from further injury. The biggest key to successful wound healing is patient compliance with their care providers’ recommendations.

Types of wound treatment services

  • Invasive and noninvasive vascular studies
  • Lifestyle risk assessments
  • Tissue oxygen mapping
  • Wound biopsies and cultures
  • Nutritional and metabolic analyses
  • Autolytic, chemical, or surgical debridement
  • Specialty wound dressings
  • Vascular flow augmentation
  • Growth factor therapy
  • Skin grafting
  • Custom footwear
  • Preventive strategies

Other wound clinic services

  • Nutritional support to provide dietary evaluations, recommendations and education.
  • Diabetes education to reinforce effective blood-glucose management, which is essential for wound healing in diabetics.
  • Infectious disease consultations to recommend appropriate antibiotics for infected wounds.
  • Vascular studies and transcutaneous oxygen monitoring to evaluate blood flow and oxygen delivery to the wound.
  • Physical therapy to provide assistive devices and orthotics to maximize function and minimize pressure.
  • Social work to assist patients with emotional, financial, and insurance issues and to help coordinate home care services and equipment.
  • Rehabilitation medicine to help patients who may need assistance with the transition back to independence after the wound has healed.
  • Pain management to manage the acute and chronic pain that often accompanies wounds.
  • Other specialty physician services to provide specialty care as needed, such as internal medicine, physiatrists, podiatrists, vascular care, reconstructive/plastic surgery, and orthopedic care.

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