ZocdocAnswersWhat symptoms result from immobility?

Question

What symptoms result from immobility?

I don't know if I'm allowed to ask this here. If this site is only for real-life questions, I'm sorry. I'm an aspiring author, and I have a situation in one of my stories that I could use advice with to make it as medically accurate as I can. In this story, I have a character who is hit by a spell that renders him unconscious. He is a healthy, fit man before this occurs, and is in the care of someone with pretty much no medical knowledge. She feeds him, changes his diaper and otherwise just leaves him lying there, no effort to prevent complications from immobility. After 3 or 4 weeks like this, what symptoms should he have? How much will his muscles have deteriorated? Will he have any contractures or bedsores?

Answer

Immobility is a very concerning problem in many elderly patients that we treat in the hospital, and it is important to fully discuss your concern with your physician. Bed sores are certainly very common among the problems associated with immobility, and can occur within days. This is especially true in obese patients and patients that are not turned every couple of hours. While bedsores can occur theoretically, they are more common in boney areas that are laying directly on the bed, like the coccyx (tailbone) and heels. These bed sores can advance very quickly since an immobile person is usually a person whose hygiene is less than ideal; hence these sores often become infected, and can tunnel all the way down to the underlying bone. Immobile patients also develop swelling of their extremities. In the character you're describing (that is, a person who is feed but otherwise immobile), dependent edema would likely occur, resulting in swelling of the legs and hands. This occurs because there is poor re-circulation of fluid back to the heart. As you alluded to, muscle atrophy (or wasting) would also occur, but that would usually be only marginally noticeable in a three to four week period depending on his build and musculature before the period of immobilization. Finally, one of the biggest fears we have with immobilization is development of blood clots in the legs (due to poor circulation), and worse, life-threatening clots in the lungs. If these conditions should ever really apply to you or someone you know, please contact your physician or call 911 in cases of emergency.

This answer is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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