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Published on April 19, 2017

hyperbaric therapy

Hard-to-heal wounds benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy

Are you or someone you love suffering with a wound that won't heal? Often caused by problems such as poor circulation or diabetes, stubborn wounds can affect comfort, mobility, ability to work or self-care. It also increases the risk for dangerous infections, gangrene and even amputation.

Todd Kowalski, MD

Todd Kowalski, MD, Gundersen Infectious Disease and Wound Center

According to medical vice president Todd Kowalski, MD, the Infectious Disease and Wound Center at Gundersen Health System now offers hyperbaric oxygen therapy to help save limbs and heal wounds once thought untreatable. It's used to treat conditions where there's clinical evidence of benefits. This includes patients who have:

  • Diabetes with severe non-healing wounds
  • A delayed radiation skin injury or radiation irritation to organs like the bladder or intestines
  • Non-healing wounds due to poor circulation (vascular insufficiency)
  • Non-healing skin grafts or skin flaps

Usually standard wound therapy is tried for at least 30 days. This may include lifestyle changes, advanced biologic dressings, wound debridement, topical antibiotics and other medical therapies. But if these fail, hyperbaric oxygen therapy offers a very safe option…and hope.

How hyperbaric therapy works

With hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the patient rests inside a pressurized hyperbaric chamber breathing in 100 percent oxygen under pressure. Dr. Kowalski explains that this:

  • Increases oxygen in the body's blood supply so even areas with poor circulation get more oxygen
  • Promotes wound healing by stimulating growth of new blood vessels in damaged tissue and supports the cellular healing of fibroblasts—the building block cells of healing
  • Arrests the growth of bacteria and improves the body's natural ability to fight infection

"When receiving hyperbaric oxygen therapy, the patient must visit Gundersen in La Crosse for 90-minute sessions, five days a week for four to eight weeks. While it's a significant time commitment," concedes Dr. Kowalski, "for patients with challenging wounds, it can be life changing."

The only hyperbaric oxygen therapy in the area

Gundersen is the only healthcare facility in our area to offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy. It is typically covered by insurance once specific criteria have been met.

Gundersen has two hyperbaric chambers. For maximum comfort, our chambers are the largest and longest available, accommodating patients up to 700 lb. During treatments, the patient has access to our GetWell Network with free TV, relaxation videos or on-demand movies.

To learn more about hyperbaric oxygen therapy at Gundersen, talk with your primary care provider, wound care specialist or call Infectious Disease and Wound Center at (608) 775-6882.

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