Blood, Oxygen & Wound Healing: How It Works

Most of us take our natural wound healing abilities for granted. You scrape your knee, clean it and wait for it to heal on its own. It seems pretty simple, right? Not exactly. The truth is, what goes on underneath that Band-Aid is a complex process that requires a healthy blood flow to deliver the oxygen and nutrients necessary to heal, and if this process is interrupted, it can slow or prevent healing entirely. 

Wound Healing Process 

Every wound goes through a continuous repair and healing process, which typically takes a few weeks to complete. For a wound to heal properly, it must complete the four wound healing stages: 

Stage 1: Hemostasis 

Hemostasis happens immediately after an injury to skin causes bleeding. Your blood vessels constrict and reduce the flow of the blood to the injury site. Blood clots form within the injured blood vessels to prevent further blood loss. 

Stage 2: Inflammation 

Once a blood clot has closed the wound, the surrounding blood vessels are able to open up to deliver fresh nutrients and oxygen into the wound for healing. This process triggers macrophage, a white blood cell, to enter the wound, fight infection, oversee the repair process and send messengers, called growth factors, needed to heal the wound. Macrophage is the clear fluid you may see in or around the wound. 

Stage 3: Proliferation 

Proliferation is the growth and rebuilding phase, where blood cells arrive to help build new tissue to replace the tissue and cellular elements that were damaged during the process of wounding the skin. At this point, your body’s cells will produce a protein called collagen, which acts like scaffolding, to support the repair process. 

Stage 4: Remodeling 

The last wound healing stage is remodeling whereby the inflammation is gradually resolved and the collagen is deposited. New tissue takes the form of the original tissue and fills the area of the wound. We call this scar tissue, and while the wound may appear to have healed, it does not have the same strength as the normal tissue had before. It may take several months to a year for the healed wound to gain full strength. 

When Wound Healing Is Interrupted 

For healthy adults, the four wound healing stages progress naturally. For others, however, certain factors – especially poor circulation – can interrupt the body’s natural healing process, causing a wound to heal much slower, if at all. These wounds are called chronic wounds (wounds that do not heal in six to eight weeks despite normal treatment) and are most common in people with diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and other vascular diseases. If not cared for or treated by a doctor, chronic wounds can lead to pain, infection, disability and possibly amputation of the affected limb. 

Tips for Improving Circulation 

The oxygen and nutrients that new blood carries to the wound are crucial to the healing process. By improving circulation and blood flow, more healing nutrients and oxygen reach the cells. 

Eat a healthy diet. 

A healthy diet promotes proper blood flow and can even speed up the wound healing process. Eat these power foods to make sure you are getting the right nutrients for optimal circulation and wound healing: 

  • Protein: Lean meats, low-sodium beans, low-fat milk and yogurt, tofu, soy nuts and soy products 
  • Vitamin C: Citrus fruits and juices, strawberries, tomatoes, spinach, potatoes, peppers and cruciferous vegetables 
  • Vitamin A: Dark green, leafy vegetables, orange or yellow vegetables, cantaloupe and fortified cereals or dairy products 
  • Zinc: Red meats, seafood and fortified cereals 

Quit smoking. 

There are a number of reasons to quit smoking and better your health. Beyond increasing risk for cancer and heart disease, tobacco can cause poor circulation and delayed wound healing. If you smoke, consult your doctor to devise a smoking cessation plan. 

Stay hydrated. 

Dehydration and poor hydration can greatly reduce circulation of blood and body fluids. Dehydration can also lead to poor oxygen perfusion, a failure to deliver essential nutrients to the wound surface and draining inefficiency. Drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day to improve blood flow and wound healing abilities. 

Talk to a wound specialist. 

If you have a problem wound that just won’t seem to heal, schedule an appointment with your doctor to identify the underlying issue, discuss your treatment options, such as compression stockings or hyperbaric oxygen therapy, and devise a plan of action that works for your lifestyle and needs. 

Visit UnityPoint Health – Trinity Wound Care & Hyperbaric Medicine for more information on wound treatment and prevention to optimize healing potential.

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