Obesity can contribute to the development of wounds and affect the wound healing process.
There are many factors that affect wound healing, both internal and external, and obesity is a major one. People who are morbidly overweight are naturally predisposed to a variety of skin challenges, including incontinence dermatitis and fungal infections. The obese are also more likely to develop ulcers caused by pressure to the skin, and they tend to experience delayed wound healing. Such threats to the skin put patients at increased risk to infection and are enhanced by other conditions caused by obesity, such as immobility and diabetes.
Greater risks among obese
People who suffer from obesity take longer to heal from their wounds, but they are also more likely to experience complications during the wound healing process. According to the National Institutes of Health, this is because the obese are more likely to experience:
- Infection: Scientists believe that obesity negatively affects the immune system, enhancing one’s susceptibility to infection.
- Seromas: These collections of serum, often formed by anticoagulation, cause the incision to separate, exposing the wound to bacteria and making it more susceptible to infection.
- Incision dehiscence: This surgery complication is the partial or complete separation of the incision’s outer layers, which exposes the wound to bacteria.
- Anastomotic leaks: After gastric bypass surgery, a new connection to the intestines, the anastomosis, is created. In the obese, this has a greater risk of not healing properly and may leak, which can lead to infection.
While little scientific research has been done to figure out just why the obese have a harder time with wound care, evidence points to two factors: poor nutrition and diabetes.
Obesity and poor nutrition go hand in hand. People who are morbidly overweight tend to eat more fast or processed foods as a result of poor diet and lifestyle choices. Eating large portions and being drawn to foods that are high in calories, sugar and cholesterol are also common. But eating a nutritious diet is essential for healing. Throughout the wound healing stages, the body needs enough proteins, vitamins A and C and zinc to properly recover. That means it’s important to eat a balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, dairy, low-fat proteins and whole grains.
Those who are obese are at a larger risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, people with this metabolic disorder have a harder time recovering and require specialized diabetic wound care. That’s because the condition weakens the immune system, making it harder to heal from even a minor wound. Damage to the nerves further enhances one’s likelihood of developing infections, as there’s less feeling in the affected area – people often do not realize there’s a cut until it becomes painfully infected. Additionally, narrowed arteries inhibit healing by blocking the flow of blood to the wound.
Understanding how obesity plays a role in wound healing and development is not enough. Those who are morbidly overweight must strive for better health. Obesity is generally caused by moving too little and eating too much, so the obvious steps to improving your condition is to become more physically active and eat fewer – but healthier – foods. The average man needs around 2,500 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight, while women generally need about 2,000 calories per day. But losing weight may mean fewer calories than this in addition to a workout regimen. Speak with your clinician to come up with a plan to lose weight and work through wound healing stages.