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Definition

Debridement is the removal of unhealthy tissue from a wound. It will improve wound healing. There are different ways to do debridement.

Surgical Debridement of Lower Leg Wound
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Reasons for Procedure

Debridement may be done to:

  • Remove infected areas or dead cells, or clean away crust, dirt or debris
  • Create a neat wound edge—to decrease scarring
  • Help very severe burns or pressure sores heal
  • Get a sample of tissue for testing

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will discuss problems that could happen such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Loss of healthy tissue
  • Delayed healing

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Long term diseases such as diabetes or obesity

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The doctor may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the procedure
  • Fasting before the procedure, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Whether you need a ride to and from procedure

Anesthesia

Anesthesia may be used for deep wounds. Local anesthesia will numb the area. General anesthesia will make you sleep.

Description of Procedure

There are different types of debridement. Treatment may include more than one step. Methods may be:

Surgery—often used on large, deep, or painful wounds. Tools will be used to remove dead tissue. Some wounds may need help to close after tissue is removed. To do this, some skin will be removed from another area of the body and placed on the wound.

Non-surgical—will use medicine or water to remove dead tissue. Medical whirlpool or syringes may be used to brush away dead skin. Wet to dry dressing is another option. A wet dressing is packed in the wound and left until it is dry. When the dry dressing is pulled away it will take dead tissue with it.

A medicine may also be used over the wound. It will help to dissolve dead tissue. It can also help the body heal the wound itself. All methods may need to be repeated several times.

How Long Will It Take?

Surgical debridement is the quickest method. Nonsurgical debridement may take 2 to 6 weeks or longer.

Will It Hurt?

There may be some soreness after the procedure. Pain medicine can help.

Average Hospital Stay

Most can go home the same day, unless they were already in the hospital.

Post-procedure Care

At Home

It may take the wound many weeks to heal. Wound care will need to continue at home.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
  • Redness, swelling, excess bleeding, or discharge from the wound
  • A chalky white, blue, or black appearance around the wound
  • If general anesthesia was used—problems breathing, chest pain, or lasting nausea or vomiting
  • Pain that you cannot control with the medicine

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

VNAA—Visiting Nurse Associations of America
http://www.vnaa.org

Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society
http://www.wocn.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

Wounds Canada
https://www.woundscanada.ca

REFERENCES:

Debridement. University of California San Francisco Department of Surgery website. Available at: https://surgery.ucsf.edu/conditions--procedures/debridement.aspx. Accessed September 28, 2021.

Gupta S, Andersen C, et al. Management of chronic wounds: diagnosis, preparation, treatment, and follow-up. Wounds. 2017;29(9):S19-S36.

Treatment of chronic wounds. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/treatment-of-chronic-wounds-18. Accessed September 28, 2021.

Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD  Last Updated: 9/28/2021