Time Doesn’t Heal All Wounds (But Hyperbaric Technology Can Help)

Aging blood vessels are behind the prevalence of non-healing wounds in the elderly

You can find them at just about any tennis court, swimming pool, or 5K race—baby boomers who outrun, outplay, and outmaneuver participants half their age. Unfortunately, if an older person gets wounded during any of these rigorous activities, the speed of their healing is likely to lag behind their younger peers.

“As we age, our vasculature ages also,” says Thomas A. Donohue, MD, Medical Director of St. Joseph’s Candler’s Center for Hyperbarics and Wound Care in Moss Creek Village, Bluffton. Vasculature (and microvasculature) is the arrangement of blood vessels in the body.

“People need blood flow to deliver nutrition and healing proteins to a wound,” Donohue says. “When the microvasculature starts to deteriorate, it can’t get the blood flow to the tissue.”

Blood vessels in the legs are particularly affected by aging due to the simple fact that older people have been standing on their feet longer than anyone else.

“Older populations have what is called venus insufficiency, which is a weakened ability of the leg veins to pump blood back to the heart,” Donohue says. “This can cause swelling in the legs, which in turn stretches the tissues, separating the wounded skin from the deeper, oxygenated blood that it needs.”

Another component is the diminishing of one of the few positive kinds of turnover—cell turnover.

“When we’re older, we don’t regenerate new cells and new tissues as quickly and as robustly as we once did—that’s basically what aging is,” Donohue explains. “Your regenerative processes affect how you heal.”

So what can be done? Dr. Donohue commends the baby boomers who are embracing a healthier lifestyle that includes a nutritious diet, lower cholesterol, and exercise. This will help keep blood vessels open and functioning well in delivering oxygen and nutrients to tissue.

To help prevent venus insufficiency, Dr. Donohue suggests that people wear compression socks, also known as travel socks, which are available over-the-counter. Dr. Donohue even has a pair of his own, though he is a generation younger than the boomers. He believes that middle-aged men and women, especially those who are on their feet all day, should take advantage of compression socks to help prevent problems down the road.

Two other segments of the population that are at risk for non-healing wounds are diabetics and smokers.

“Diabetes is a disease of the microvasculature,” Donohue says. “Smoking is the same—it destroys the microscopic blood vessels.”

Dr. Donohue believes the number of patients dealing with non-healing wounds is on the rise.

“Even though the baby-boom generation is more active, many of them still smoke and some will develop diabetes,” Donohue says. “So I’m afraid the need for a center like ours is only going to increase.”

St. Joseph’s Candler’s Center for Hyperbarics and Wound Care in Moss Creek Village, Bluffton, recently added a second hyperbaric chamber to its facility. This new chamber was installed to guarantee that patient scheduling and convenience is not affected by the increasing demand for wound care treatment. Call 843-837-9000 for more information and to make an appointment.

The chambers provide hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which floods the blood supply with oxygen at greater than normal atmospheric pressure. This oxygen enhances the function of white blood cells and encourages the development of new capillaries.
  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

Candler Hospital Campus: 912-819-6000