Healthcare professionals often use stitches, or sutures, to close up a wound or a surgical incision. Dissolvable, or absorbable, stitches do not require removal. The body gradually breaks them down, and they disappear over time.
In this article, we explain what dissolvable stitches are, when doctors use them, and how long they take to dissolve. We also discuss whether it is safe to bathe or shower with them, how to care for them, whether they are safe to remove at home, possible complications, and when to see a doctor.
Dissolvable stitches are a type of suture that manufacturers make using special materials, such as animal proteins or synthetic polymers, that chemicals in the body can break down and absorb.
As the body can gradually absorb these stitches, a person does not need to return to a clinic or hospital for removal.
Nonabsorbable stitches typically consist of materials such as nylon or silk. The body cannot absorb these materials, so a person will need a healthcare professional to remove the stitches once the wound has healed.
How a doctor chooses to close a wound depends on the size, depth, and type of wound, as well as the doctor's expertise and comfort level with different closing techniques.
Healthcare professionals often prefer nonabsorbable stitches to dissolvable stitches because they are very strong, and the body will not break them down. They typically use nonabsorbable stitches for closing superficial wounds.
However, doctors may choose dissolvable stitches for deeper wounds or surgical incisions. To close a deeper wound, they may stitch together several layers of tissue with dissolvable stitches.
Using dissolvable stitches creates less tension and makes it easier for doctors to fit the shape of the wound, which reduces the risk of the wound reopening and leads to less scarring.
A doctor may choose to use dissolvable stitches for closing a person's wound after:
- oral surgery, such as wisdom tooth extraction
- repairing muscle and connective tissue
- skin grafts
- some types of abdominal surgery, including cesarean delivery
- repairing vaginal and perineal tearing due to childbirth
The length of time that it takes for the body to absorb dissolvable stitches depends on the material of the stitches. Doctors will consider the characteristics of the wound and its location on the body when they choose a material for the stitches.
For example, when an orthopedic surgeon is closing up the incision following a joint replacement, they may use a material that will not dissolve entirely for several months. Following a cesarean delivery, a doctor may choose stitches that dissolve within a few weeks.
It is important for people to follow their doctor's care instructions after having dissolvable stitches. In many cases, a person can shower 24 hours after the wound closure.
However, a doctor may advise a person to avoid soaking in a bathtub for a specified period.
Doctors will usually give people advice on how to care for their stitches when they get home.
However, some general care tips for dissolvable stitches include:
- showering according to the doctor's instructions
- patting the area dry gently after showering
- keeping the area dry
- changing any dressings as and when the doctor advises
- avoiding using soap on the area
- refraining from taking baths or swimming until the wound heals
- avoiding activities that may strain the wound while it heals
- wearing clothes that fit loosely around the area
It is also essential that people wash their hands thoroughly before touching the wound or changing the dressing.
A person should not attempt to remove any stitches without their doctor's approval. There is generally no need to remove dissolvable stitches as they will eventually disappear on their own.
If a person does need to remove their stitches, they should follow their doctor's instructions carefully to reduce the risk of infection and other complications.
The most likely complication from having stitches is a wound infection. However, keeping the wound clean and dry and following the doctor's care instructions greatly reduces the risk of infection.
Signs and symptoms of an infected wound can include:
- the skin around the wound becoming swollen, red, or warm
- worsening pain from the wound area
- an unpleasant smell or discharge coming from the wound
- swollen glands
- generally feeling unwell
Stitches can also tear or become loose, which may cause the wound to reopen. If this occurs, a person should see their doctor as soon as possible so that they can replace the stitches.
People should seek immediate attention if they suspect that their wound may have become infected. A person should also visit a doctor if their stitches pop, break, or come loose.
Dissolvable stitches consist of materials that the body can break down and absorb. They do not require a doctor to remove them and will eventually disappear on their own.
Doctors tend to use dissolvable stitches for deeper wounds. For more superficial wounds, they usually prefer to use nonabsorbable stitches.
It is important to follow the doctor's care instructions after having stitches. People should not attempt to remove any stitches without their doctor's approval.
Anyone who suspects that their wound has become infected should seek medical care as soon as possible.