The Wound Site
Commonly asked questions
What should I know about my stitches?
There are a variety of ways to close a wound after surgery. By far the most common is to use sutures or stitches and, after any kind of abdominal surgery, you are likely to find stitches, even in a puncture wound from keyhole surgery. It is most likely that your stitches are dissolvable but occasionally stitches that need to be removed are still used. Surgical glue is a common alternative.
If you are not sure what your stitches are made of and weren’t told whether you had to get them removed or if they will dissolve on their own, call the hospital ward that treated you and they should tell you. Dissolvable stitches are supposed to dissolve on their own between about 10 and 21 days after surgery but, unfortunately, sometimes don’t dissolve.
What if my dissolvable stitches do not dissolve?
Dissolvable stitches are supposed to dissolve on their own between about 10 and 21 days after surgery but, unfortunately, sometimes don’t dissolve. If after 21 days they are still there and you have been soaking in the bath (preferably) or showering, then you should contact the practice nurse at your surgery and ask them to perform a wound check and remove them for you.
Removing a stitch takes a second and is relatively painless. You should never pull at them yourself as this can result in complications such as a wound infection. If you think your stitches are stuck, when soaking in the bath you can wipe firmly over them with a clean damp flannel, once each in a north, south, east and west direction but be careful to do no more than that.
Do I have stitches inside me?
If you had a major abdominal operation, yes you do. These stitches will dissolve on their own and you are unlikely to be aware of them. It will take between four to six weeks to knit the muscles together in the same way a wound on the surface of the skin does after a few days. This is one of the key reasons you should be taking it easy and not lifting anything for six weeks after surgery.
I do not have stitches. What do I need to know?
There are other ways of closing a wound after surgery. Clips and staples need to be removed by a nurse or doctor and you are normally given an appointment before you leave or have them removed before you leave hospital. Sometimes the wound will be sprayed with a special adhesive that seals the skin. This kind of dressing has different names but you might hear it called “opsite” dressing or plastic skin. It is a liquid plastic that sets when sprayed on to the skin and comes into contact with the air. This wears off after a few days.
Can I take a shower or bath following surgery?
Normally, you can shower 24 hours after an operation on your abdomen (tummy) and take a bath after 48 hours. It is a good idea to make sure someone is around when you get into the bath, in case you find it uncomfortable or tricky to get out. If for some reason it is not advisable to take a bath, you will usually be told this as part of your discharge information. If you are in any doubt, ring the ward from which you were discharged and ask them.
Whilst you have an open wound or stitches, you should avoid using bath oils or other strongly scented bath treats. Until the wound is healed and the stitches are gone, warm water and very gentle soap are all you should be using for your bathing needs. Other than a daily shower or bath, there should be no need to clean your wound with anything else. You should not use any antiseptic or cream type preparations on a new scar unless it has been prescribed by a doctor. Don’t rub or wash the scars; gentle washing in warm water with a mild soap or body wash gel, avoiding the actual scars, is all that is needed. Dissolvable stitches often rely on taking regular baths to help the stitches dissolve.
Should I put a plaster on my wounds?
It is better to leave the wound site uncovered. However, if the stitches pull or rub on your clothing then covering them with some low adherent dressing (that does not stick to the skin), which is available from most pharmacies and supermarkets, is recommended. You should not use any antiseptic or cream type preparations on a new scar unless it has been prescribed by a doctor.