Factors That Inhibit Wound Healing
Smoking, drinking, obesity and a variety of other factors can inhibit wound healing.
Wound healing is a complex process, but when a lesion is cared for properly – provided a clean, covered and moist environment – it can heal on its own with little or no scarring. However, many factors come into play that can hinder the body’s ability to recover from a wound. In some cases, there’s nothing you can do about certain circumstances that affect wound healing, but many are tied to everyday habits that you have complete control over. Review these factors that inhibit wound healing so that you, with the help of your clinician, can make an informed decision about the proper treatment plan.
When a wound becomes infected, it can become larger and have a harder time recovering. If this occurs during the inflammation phase – the initial stage – the wound is unable to move forward in the healing process. That’s because the pathogenic microbes that have taken over the wound site compete with the fibroblasts (which are essential for recovery) for limited nutrients and other resources.
As people get older, their bodies’ ability to heal from lesions continues to weaken. Several elements come into play. The skin loses elasticity and experienced reduced collagen as people age, both elements that aid in wound healing. Additionally, the immune system naturally becomes weaker with age, which is why the elderly are at a higher risk of infection, according to the National Institutes of Health. Older adults are also at a greater risk of developing age-related chronic conditions that can affect blood flow to the wound site, thereby slowing healing.
Smoking cigarettes interferes with the body’s immune system. According to the NIH, patients who smoke after surgery experience a delay in wound healing and tend to suffer from other complications, including rupture of the wound, infection, necrosis and low tensile strength. Smokers are also more likely to have scarring – it’s not uncommon for reconstructive surgeons to decline cosmetic surgery to clear up scarring on people who refuse to quit the bad habit.
While a serving of wine each day can be beneficial to blood flow, excessive alcohol consumption is detrimental to wound healing. It significantly increases the risk of wound infection by diminishing the body’s resistance to bacteria and other harmful elements. Another interesting fact worth noting is that, according to the NIH, a majority of emergency room traumas involve a person who is under the influence – avoiding alcohol is not only beneficial to wound healing, but it can help you avoid injuries altogether.
A person’s weight can be a major factor in the body’s ability to heal. For instance, being overweight can put tension on stitches following a surgery, which can cause the wound to open and expose it to potentially harmful elements. Obese people also tend to have poor blood flow, according to the journal Advances in Skin & Wound Care, which can starve the affected area of nutrients, oxygen and other essentials for wound healing. Additionally, obesity is also tied to poor nutrition, another circumstance that impedes recovery.
Some pharmaceuticals slow or halt the healing process. This is particularly true of ones that interfere with the body’s ability to form blood clots. Steroids, which are often prescribed to reduce inflammation, can suppress cellular response and cause the wound to heal without proper formation of granulation tissue. This can worsen scarring. Chemotherapeutic drugs are also known to have a negative effect on wound healing. If you think your medications are disrupting your body’s ability to recover from a wound, talk with your clinician about alternative treatments.