How To Know If You Need Stitches

Wondering how to know if you need stitches for a cut?  Stitches are used to neatly close larger cuts that would not heal well if left to heal on their own.  Even minor cuts, scrapes and wounds often bleed a great deal and can look rather severe. What should you consider when deciding if your latest cut warrants a trip to a doctor or an emergency room? 

  • Take a common sense look at the wound.  It does not take a trained E.M.T. to know that a nearly severed finger needs medical attention.  Other times, the decision to see a doctor may not be so obvious, but there are some indications that help may be required.  If the wound is a large, deep, bleeding injury—or is a deep puncture wound, you probably need to visit a doctor for a tetanus shot anyway, so have the wound evaluated.
  • Are the edges of wound jagged or unable to close?  Depending on the nature of the cut, the edges of the wound may not be neat and orderly.  If the skin is unable to connect, the wound will need stitches to hold it together so that it can heal properly.
  • Can you control the bleeding?   With any bleeding wound, the first step in treatment must be to stop the bleeding.  Jagged cuts—or those on movable body parts like finger joints, elbows or knees—are not likely to hold together, clot and heal easily left unstitched.  If the cut continues to bleed after ten minutes of first aid efforts—stitches may be required. 
  • Where is the cut located on your body?  Aside from aiding in healing, stitches can also reduce scarring.  Stitches are common for injuries to the face and head.  Wounds located on flexing and bending body parts—or on “busy” parts like hands and forearms—often reopen and require stitching.
  • Can you close the wound yourself with your first aid kit?  There are special adhesive strips, such as butterfly bandages and sterilized first aid adhesive strips that you may use to seal up a smaller cut without the need for true stitches.  Doctors and emergency room staff may be able to use these as well—so a trip to the E.R. does not always mean traditional stitches.
  • What is the bottom line in determining if you need stitches?  If the wound is large, deep or jagged—and is difficult to close or stop from bleeding, you may require stitches.  If the wound is located on your face or a visible area of the body—you may want stitches to minimize scarring.  Depending on the nature of the wound, you may need a tetanus shot which requires a physician evaluation anyway.

Resources:

Telluride Medical Center Patient Information

FamilyDoctor.org First Aid:Cuts and Scrapes

 

 

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