When To Get Stitches: A Guide For Getting Sewn Up

By:    Published: September 25, 2012

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Not sure if your cut is bad enough for stitches? Want to be prepared in case an accident happens? Read this handy guide to stitches, which includes information on how to know whether you need stitches and what could happen if you decide not to get them.

The Basics Of Stitches

Stitches are used to help close a cut. The different kinds of thread used to make stitches are called sutures. Sutures can be made of nylon, silk or vicryl. Stitches are used to close a wound, prevent further blood loss and minimize scarring. Not all wounds require stitches; however, they can be very helpful in protecting against infection for more serious cuts or lacerations.

Determining If Stitches Are Necessary

The following three factors about your cut will help a medical professional determine whether you need stitches:

  • Depth: Wounds more than ¼-inch (6 millimeters deep) usually need stitches. If you can see yellowish fatty tissue in your wound, that’s a sign that it is deep enough to require stitches.
  • Width: Gaping wounds or wounds that cannot be closed easily almost always require stitches. If your wound has jagged edges, you should also check to see if you need stitches.
  • Location: If you cut is in an area of your skin that moves and stretches often, you might need stitches. An example if this is a wound that is located on or near a joint.

In addition to these rules, those who are diabetic or have suffered an animal bite should always see a doctor, even if their wound seems like it might not need stitches. Lastly, you should call 9-1-1 immediately if you are experiencing uncontrolled bleeding.

What To Expect

When you go in to get stitches, a doctor will examine your cut to see if stitches are really necessary. If they are, the doctor will first disinfect your wound and clean the surrounding area of skin to prevent infection. Then, the doctor will prepare the sutures much like someone prepares a needle and thread to sew. The doctor creates a looping pattern from one end of the cut to the other in order to close the wound.

In most cases, a local anesthetic is given so that this process is relatively painless. The anesthetic may be a numbing gel spread onto the skin or a liquid injection near the site of the wound. With a local anesthetic, you will not feel pain, but you may feel a tugging at the skin as the stitches are threaded in. For very serious wounds requiring many stitches, a general anesthetic may be given so that the patient is unconscious throughout the procedure.

After You’ve Been Stitched

Always follow your doctor’s instructions for caring for your stitches. Most need to stay dry for a day or two. An antibiotic ointment and bandage is usually applied to prevent infection, and you will likely be advised to change these dressings at least once a day. If a stitch pops open or if the wound becomes swollen or oozes pus, see your doctor right away.

Your stitches will stay in place until your skin has healed. The length of time it takes to heal will depend on the severity of the wound. A doctor can remove the stitches with tweezers once the healing is complete, and you may also be prescribed a skin ointment that you can use once the stitches are out to help minimize scarring. One exception to this is when your stitches are made with vicryl sutures. Vicryl is a type of thread that actually dissolves in the skin, meaning that you won’t need to go back to the doctor in order to get your stitches removed.

Possible Risks Of Avoiding Stitches

If you do need stitches, it’s important to clean and cover your wound and see a doctor as soon as possible. Stitches can be applied in an emergency room or urgent care clinic. In most cases, you have about 6 to 8 hours to get stitches before the wound is too contaminated to stitch up. Avoiding stitches for a serious cut could lead to the following complications:

  • Tenderness near the wound
  • Inflammation near the wound
  • Numbness near the wound
  • Red streaks near the wound
  • Scarring
  • Fever
  • Serious infection

Finally, don’t forget that you should see a doctor no matter what if there’s a chance that you could get tetanus. This serious infection can result from any cut if you haven’t had at least three tetanus vaccinations with the most recent occurring within the last 10 years.

Stitches can be annoying to have, but they are usually the best thing for ensuring that you don’t get an infection and that your wound heals correctly. Always ask a doctor for guidance if you’re unsure about whether you need stitches.

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