What Should You Do If Dissolvable Stitches Don’t Dissolve?

Axelle Geelen/Flickr

If your dissolvable stitches still haven’t disintegrated after the expected amount of time, you should contact your doctor. They may ask you to come in so the stitches can be removed, or give you instructions on how to remove them yourself, but under no circumstances should action be taken without consulting a doctor. If a wound shows signs of infection, such as swelling, redness, pus, fever or pain, see a medical professional immediately.

What Are Dissolvable Stitches?

Stitches that don’t dissolve are usually made from nylon or silk. Dissolvable stitches are made from materials such as purified catgut, collagen, and cow intestines. Some silk stitches are dissolvable, although most aren’t.

The reason why dissolvable stitches work is because they’re made from materials that the body’s immune system can break down. Just as a wound caused by a splinter may hurt but heal after a few days, so does the body dissolve this kind of stitch.

Dissolvable stitches break down because your immune system attacks them just like they would any other foreign body in your skin, like a splinter. And splinters sting, right? Not just when they go in, but for several days afterward. This is because your immune system prompts an inflammatory reaction to get rid of them, and inflammatory reactions also cause pain (not to mention an increased chance of scarring).

When Are Dissolvable Stitches Used?

While dissolvable stitches don’t need to be removed later, they are more likely to cause scarring. Because of this, they are often used internally or where scarring is unlikely to occur. Dissolvable stitches are often used for:

  • Oral surgery, such as wisdom teeth removal
  • Skin grafts
  • Abdominal surgery, such as cesarean births
  • Breast tumor removal
  • Mending muscle and connective tissue
  • Knee replacement surgery
  • Childbirth-related injuries, such as for perineal or vaginal tearing 

How Long Do They Take to Dissolve?

Different materials take different lengths of time to dissolve. The nature of the surgery and the size and type of suture used are also factors. The stitches used in wisdom tooth removal, for instance, may dissolve in only a couple of weeks, while the stitches used for joint replacement surgery may take months to dissolve. A cesarean section is somewhere in between, taking up to a few weeks.

Home Removal

Only remove stitches with explicit permission from your doctor, and be sure to follow any instructions they provide. Removing stitches early can cause permanent damage.

The procedure usually begins with acquiring sterile surgical scissors and thorough handwashing to prevent infection. The area of the body also needs to be sterilized with rubbing alcohol. 

Caring for Stitches

As with home removal, you should always follow your doctor’s instructions on how to care for a wound with stitches. Important steps usually include keeping the wound dry and using antibacterial ointment. For larger wounds, it is also often important to limit strenuous motions so as to avoid reopening the wound. Some doctors may also recommend treating the wound with a mix of water and hydrogen peroxide applied via Q-tip followed by Vaseline or an antibiotic.