Subepidermal moisture (SEM) and bioimpedance: a literature review of a novel method for early detection of pressure-induced tissue damage (pressure ulcers)

Int Wound J. 2017 Apr;14(2):331-337. doi: 10.1111/iwj.12604. Epub 2016 Apr 29.


Current detection of pressure ulcers relies on visual and tactile changes at the skin surface, but physiological changes below the skin precede surface changes and have a significant impact on tissue health. Inflammatory and apoptotic/necrotic changes in the epidermal and dermal layers of the skin, such as changes in interstitial fluid (also known as subepidermal moisture (SEM)), may precede surface changes by 3-10 days. Those same epidermal and subepidermal changes result in changes in the electrical properties (bioimpedance) of the tissue, thereby presenting an objective, non-invasive method for assessing tissue damage. Clinical studies of bioimpedance for the detection of pressure ulcers have demonstrated that changes in bioimpedance correlate with increasing severity of pressure ulcer stages. Studies have also demonstrated that at anatomical locations with pressure ulcers, bioimpedance varies with distance from the centre of the pressure ulcers. The SEM Scanner, a handheld medical device, offers an objective and reliable method for the assessment of local bioimpedance, and therefore, assessment of tissue damage before signs become visible to the unaided eye. This literature review summarises pressure ulcer pathophysiology, principles of bioimpedance and clinical research using bioimpedance technology to assess pressure ulcers.

Keywords: Assessment; Bioimpedance; Literature review; Pathophysiology; Pressure ulcer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Early Diagnosis*
  • Extracellular Fluid / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods*
  • Pressure Ulcer / diagnosis*
  • Skin / physiopathology*