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What is Debridement?

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Updated May 05, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Anesthesia Is Typically Required For Surgical Debridement

Anesthesia is typically required for surgical debridement.

Photo: © Andrew Olney/Getty Images
Definition: Debridement is the process of removing unhealthy tissue. The tissue may be necrotic (dead), infected, damaged, contaminated or there may be a foreign body in the tissue.

There are multiple types of debridement that are performed in medicine today.

  • Surgical Debridement:This is the process of removing damaged or dying tissue surgically. In this case, a surgeon visually inspects the tissue, determines what tissue is viable, and removes the tissue that is not salvageable.

  • Autolytic Debridement: This is the body's own process of getting rid of dead tissue and keeping healthy tissue. This process may be assisted by a dressing or wound care.

  • Enzymatic Debridement: This type of debridement uses enzyme solutions or ointments to treat the tissue. Typically, the solution or ointment is combined with a dressing that is changed regularly.

  • Mechanical Debridement: This form of debridement is the removal of tissue using a dressing that is changed regularly. The dressing, commonly referred to as a wet to dry dressing, consists of moist gauze being applied to a wound that requires debridement, which is then covered by a sterile bandage. After a set period of time, the dressing will dry out, which allows the tissue to adhere to the gauze. When the dressing is removed, the tissue that adhered to the gauze is also removed. This type of debridement is also referred to as "non-selective debridement" as both healthy and unhealthy tissue can be removed with this process.

  • Maggot Debridement: This type of debridement uses maggots, or fly larva, that are raised in a sterile environment to debride wounds. The maggots are placed on a wound, typically under a loose bandage, where they eat dead or dying tissue. Maggots are a selective type of debridement, meaning they only consume unhealthy tissue, leaving the healthy tissue undamaged.

  • Hydrotherapy (Mechanical) Debridement: Hydrotherapy, or pressurized water, is most commonly used to debride burn wounds. A non-selective form of debridement, this treatment can be very painful, depending upon the nature of the wounds.
Pronunciation: duh-breed-ment
Common Misspellings: debreedment, debreadment, dibridement
Examples:
The patient had to have a surgical debridement of his wound after it became infected and did not heal properly.
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