Wounds, particularly those that are chronic can be ignored or their severity minimised. Sometimes this is because the person with the wound may not know about the risks of leaving their wound untreated.  It is also tempting to think it will heal eventually or that it’s not that bad. Sometimes people know something is not right with their wound but they are scared to seek help.

Left untreated there are certain risks associated with a chronic or difficult to heal wound. The good news is that chronic wounds can heal with the right treatment.

Localised infection

Localised infection is that which occurs at and is confined to the wound site.

Our skin is both naturally covered with germs and bacteria and it provides the protection from them entering the body. Having an open wound, no matter how small, increases your risk for an infection because it provides germs with a way to enter the body. The longer a wound remains open the greater the opportunity for germs to enter the body.

However, even having bacteria in your wound does not mean it is infected. Rather it is the type and number of germs, as well as your body’s ability to fight the germs off, through the immune system, will determine if the wound becomes infected. General health as well as the presence of one or more chronic diseases will influence this outcome. The presence of an infection can slow healing or make your wound worse as the body fights the infection rather than healing the wound.

Signs and symptoms that a wound may be locally infected are:

  • Wounds that are red, swollen, hot to touch
  • Wounds that are painful
  • Wounds that have a thick, yellowish fluid (pus)

If your or a family member’s wound has these symptoms don’t delay  – see you doctor or health care practitioner. Remember with the right treatment chronic wounds can heal.

Systemic (or whole body) Infection

If untreated, infection in a localised wound can spread to the whole body becoming a serious infection.  Bacteria from the localised wound enter the capillaries at the wound site, travel into the larger blood vessels which takes them throughout the body.  This is a serious infection of which additional to the signs and symptoms listed above at the wound site there will be fever, chills and malaise. Seeing a doctor is now urgent.

If the person continues to be untreated these symptoms extend to:

  • Very low body temperature.
  • Passing less urine than usual
  • Rapid pulse.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhoea

as chemicals released into the bloodstream to fight the infection trigger inflammatory responses throughout the body. This inflammatory response can trigger a cascade of changes that can damage multiple organ systems (eg heart, kidney) causing them to fail. This response known as septic shock can ultimately lead to death.

Amputation

Eg a chronic wound if left untreated can become very deep / severe, affecting the muscles and tendons and exposing bone.  While there are many treatment options available to prevent amputation, if these are  applied quickly, an amputation may be needed to save a person’s life.

Amputation is the surgical removal of all or part of a limb. This can sometimes occur due to wounds on the foot or ankle, such as diabetic ulcers or a pressure sore on a heel, being left untreated.  There are many treatment options that can be used on these types of wounds. It can also happen if the wound does not respond to treatment due to the impact of chronic disease on the limb or the person’s general health. In these circumstances or when the wound is untreated it will become larger and deeper often involving muscles and ligaments and sometimes extending to the bone. When a person has one amputation it is highly likely they will require further amputation on the same leg and/or other leg.

Remember chronic wounds can heal with the right treatment.