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Int J Nurs Stud. 2008 May;45(5):784-801. Epub 2007 Oct 4.

Alternating pressure air mattresses as prevention for pressure ulcers: a literature review.

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Department of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University, UZ 2 Blok A, De Pintelaan 185, B 9000 Gent, Belgium.



The purpose of this paper is to examine and synthesise the literature on alternating pressure air mattresses (APAMs) as a preventive measure for pressure ulcers.


Literature review.


PubMed, Cinahl, Central, Embase, and Medline databases were searched to identify original and relevant articles. Additional publications were retrieved from the references cited in the publications identified during the electronic database search.


Thirty-five studies were included. Effectiveness and comfort of APAMs were the main focuses of the studies evaluating APAMs. Pressure ulcer incidence, contact interface pressure, and blood perfusion were the most frequently used outcome measures to evaluate the effectiveness of APAMs. Fifteen randomised controlled trials (RCTs) analysed the pressure ulcer incidence. One RCT compared a standard hospital mattress with an APAM and found that the APAM was a more effective preventive measure. RCTs comparing APAMs with constant-low-air mattresses resulted in conflicting evidence. There was also no clear evidence as to which type of APAM performed better. All RCTs had methodological flaws. The use of contact interface pressure and blood perfusion measurements to evaluate the effectiveness of APAMs is questionable. Comfort of APAMs was the primary outcome measure in only four studies. Different methods for assessment were used and different types of APAMs were evaluated. Better measures for comfort are needed. A few studies discussed technical problems associated with APAMs. Educating nurses in the correct use of APAMs is advisable.


Taking into account the methodological issues, we can conclude that APAMs are likely to be more effective than standard hospital mattresses. Contact interface pressure and blood perfusion give only a hypothetical conclusion about APAMs' effectiveness. Additional large, high-quality RCTs are needed. No conclusions can be drawn regarding the comfort of APAMs. A number of technical problems associated with APAMs are related to nurses' improper use of the devices.

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