Medical professionals use a 4 stage scale to describe and monitor pressure sores, also called bed sores, pressure ulcers, decubitus ulcers, or pressure wounds. By categorizing pressure sores according to standardized characteristics, there can be a sense of uniformity among medical facilities that treat people with pressure ulcers. Bed sores are categorized based on their severity, with Stage 1 being the lowest and Stage 4 being the most serious. Below is an outline of the 4 stages of bed sores:

  • Stage 1 pressure ulcers are pressure sores that cause persistent areas of red skin that may itch or hurt and feel warm to the touch. In those with darker skin, the mark may appear to have a blue or purple color to it. Stage 1 wounds are superficial and go away shortly after the pressure is relieved.
  • Stage 2 pressure ulcers occur when some skin loss to the most outer layers of skin is present. The wound can look like a blister or abrasion. The skin surrounding the wound may be red or purple. If treated promptly, stage 2 pressure ulcers can heal fairly quickly.
  • Stage 3 pressure ulcers occur when the pressure damage to the skin extends to the deepest levels of skin and often looks deep and crater like.
  • Stage 4 is the most serious type of pressure ulcer and has advanced to the point of damaging muscle, bone, or other support structures like tendons and joints. Wounds that have developed to this stage because of persistent pressure can be extremely difficult to heal and can lead to lethal infections.

Pressure ulcers can also be categorized as unstageable, where the wound is covered in dead tissue and it is unclear just how advanced the wound is. In this situation a medical procedure is usually necessary to remove the dead tissue to determine the extent of the involvement of skin, muscle, or bone.