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What Are Absorbable Sutures?

How to Care For Stitches That Dissolve

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Updated June 13, 2014

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Abdominal Surgery Incision

© Getty Images/Barrett Forster

What Are Absorbable Sutures?

You are probably accustomed to standard sutures, the type you receive when you have a deep cut on your finger or another type of injury. Those stitches stay in place for a week or two, then a nurse or a doctor removes them once the wound has closed. Absorbable stitches do not need to be removed. They are made of special materials that can remain in the body for an extended period of time. Over weeks or months, your body dissolves the sutures, well after your incision has closed.

Absorbable sutures are often used internally, but they are also used on the surface of the skin. Remember, when a surgeon makes an incision, they are cutting through more than skin, they are also cutting through the fat that is underneath your skin, and potentially through muscle or other tissues. Your surgeon may close the deeper parts of the incision with absorbable sutures, and then use more sutures on your skin, or another type of closure such as adhesive strips or surgical skin glue.

Absorbable sutures vary widely in both strength and how long they will take for your body to reabsorb them. Some types dissolve as quickly as 10 days, while other types can take about six months to dissolve. The type of suture used depends on your surgeon's preference, how strong the suture needs to be to properly support the incision and how quickly your body works to dissolve the material.

How To Care For Absorbable Sutures

If your absorbable sutures are on your skin, cleaning them is easy. The best way to clean your incision is to clean from the "dirtiest" part of the incision to the "cleanest" part, meaning start at the center of your incision and move outward. You should never scrub your incision, doing so can be very irritating to the healing skin and can actually slow the closure of your wound.

If you have scabs on your sutures, do not scrub them away. Scabs are a normal part of incision closure and, while they may be annoying, they are a sign that your skin is healing. Gently washing your incision in the shower, just like you would wash any other part of your body, is considered the best way to care for your incision. Avoid bathing and swimming until your incision is fully closed.

Don't forget to inspect your incision daily and be sure to look for signs of infection or drainage from your wound.

Help, I Can Feel My Sutures!

Many people complain that they can feel their absorbable sutures under their incision, even after it appears to have completely healed. First, stop rubbing or poking at your incision site. Your skin may close far faster than the rest of your incision, and repeatedly rubbing your surgical site will not help your healing process.

It is normal to be able to feel internal sutures, and while most absorbable sutures do dissolve within about six months, yours may be gone quicker or they may take far longer to completely dissolve. This is normal and should not be cause for alarm. You may also be feeling scar tissue, rather than sutures, which is also normal for a surgical incision.

Peroxide and Absorbable Sutures

Research has shown that peroxide can reduce the tensile strength of absorbable sutures. What does this mean for you? Do not clean your incision, if you have absorbable sutures, with hydrogen peroxide. In fact, most surgical incisions should not be cleaned with hydrogen peroxide of any strength unless your surgeon specifically tells you do to so.

Peroxide is too harsh for most incisions, and can cause irritation, which can lead to infection, if you use it near your surgical site. Instead, use water and a mild soap to gently clean your incision or your stitches.

Sources:

Covidien Wound Closure. Accessed February 2013. http://www.syneture.com/syneture/pagebuilder.aspx?topicID=31357&breadcrumbs=0:66860

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