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Vol. 36 No. 3, July 1999


Temperature effects on surface pressure-induced changes in rat skin perfusion: Implications in pressure ulcer development

Suryachandra Patel, MD, PhD; Charles F. Knapp, PhD; James C. Donofrio, PhD; Richard Salcido, MD

Center for Biomedical Engineering and the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Kentucky, Lexington KY

ABSTRACT--The effect of varying local skin temperature on surface pressure-induced changes in skin perfusion and deformation was determined in hairless fuzzy rats (13.5±3 mo, 474±25 g). Skin surface pressure was applied by a computer-controlled plunger with corresponding skin deformation measured by a linear variable differential transformer while a laser Doppler flowmeter measured skin perfusion. In Protocol I, skin surface perfusion was measured without heating (control, T=28°C), with heating (T=36°C), for control (probe just touching skin, 3.7 mmHg), and at two different skin surface pressures, 18 mmHg and 73 mmHg. Heating caused perfusion to increase at control and 18 mmHg pressure, but not at 73 mmHg. In Protocol II, skin perfusion was measured with and without heating as in Protocol I, but this time skin surface pressure was increased from 3.7 to 62 mmHg in increments of 3.7 mmHg. For unheated skin, perfusion increased as skin surface pressure increased from 3.7 to 18 mmHg. Further increases in surface pressure caused a decrease in perfusion until zero perfusion was reached for pressures over 55 mmHg. Heating increased skin perfusion for surface pressures from 3.7 to 18 mmHg, but not for pressures greater than 18 mmHg. After the release of surface pressure, the reactive hyperemia peak of perfusion increased with heating. In Protocol III, where skin deformation (creep and relaxation) was measured during the application of 3.7 and 18 mmHg, heating caused the tissue to be stiffer, allowing less deformation. It was found that for surface pressures below 18 mmHg, increasing skin temperature significantly increased skin perfusion and tissue stiffness. The clinical significance of these findings may have relevance in evaluating temperature and pressure effects on skin blood flow and deformation as well as the efficacy of using temperature as a therapeutic modality in the treatment of pressure ulcers.

Key words: decubitus, ischemia/reperfusion, pressure ulcer, rat model, skin perfusion, surface pressure, temperature effects.

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