Pressure ulcers are one of the most common causes of morbidity, mortality and rehospitalization for those living with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). Literature examining risk and recurrence of pressure ulcers (PrUs) has primarily focused on the nursing home elderly who do not have SCI. More than 200 factors that increase PrU risk have been identified. Yet unlike the elderly who incur pressure ulcers in nursing homes or when hospitalized, most persons with SCI develop their pressure ulcers as outpatients, while residing in the community. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides medical care for a large number of persons with chronic SCI. Included in the VHA SCI model of chronic disease management is the provision of an annual Comprehensive Preventive Health Evaluation, a tool that has potential to identify individuals at high risk for PrUs. This research was motivated by the clinical observation that some individuals appear to be protected from developing PrUs despite apparently 'risky' behaviors while others develop PrUs despite vigilant use of the currently known preventative measures. There is limited literature regarding protective factors and specific risk factors that reduce PrU occurrence in the community dwelling person with chronic SCI have not been delineated. The purpose of this study is to examine the preliminary hypothesis that there are biological and/or psychosocial factors that increase or reduce vulnerability to PrUs among persons with SCI. A limited number of refined hypotheses will be generated for testing in a prospective fashion. A retrospective cross-sectional survey of 119 randomly selected Veterans with SCI undergoing the Comprehensive Health Prevention Evaluation during the year 2009 was performed. Factors that differed between patients with 0, 1 or ≥2 PrUs were identified and stratified, with an emphasis on modifiable risk factors. Three hypotheses generated from this study warrant further investigation: (1) cumulative smoking history increases the risk of PrUs independent of co-morbidities, (2) being moderately overweight, BMI. >. 25, with or without spasticity, is a modifiable factor that may be protective and (3) increased use of a caregiver does not reduce PrU risk. Prospective studies that focus on these hypotheses will lead to evidence-based risk assessment tools and customized interventions to prevent PrUs in persons with SCI in the outpatient setting.
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