What to Do If a Surgical Wound Starts to Open

When to Call Your Doctor or 911

It can be quite alarming to have your incision start to open after having a surgical procedure. That doesn't mean it is an emergency, but an incision that begins to open shouldn't be ignored.

The opening of a wound may be a minor issue, such as when a suture comes loose or a very small area of the incision starts to pull apart. But it may also be a major problem if the entire incision opens, particularly if you can see the tissue below or if it starts to come out through the incision.

In all cases, you should keep a close eye on your incision, even if there are no areas that have come open. You also should check it daily for signs of infection and to make sure it is healing well.

This article explains the reasons why your incision may open, and why it requires care. It also offers some ideas for preventing an incision from opening back up.

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Surgical Wound Dehiscence

When a surgical incision starts to open, a problem called dehiscence, you need to closely watch for signs that it's getting worse. If one of your sutures comes loose or the glue strips holding your incision fall off, this is not overly concerning. If it starts to gape open, and leaves space between the sides of the incision, you should tell your surgeon. 

You need to let the surgeon know because even small openings allow foreign material like bacteria inside of the wound. This increases the chances that your wound may become infected and open even more. 

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Click Play to Learn All About Wound Dehiscence

This video has been medically reviewed by Anju Goel, MD, MPH.

A small opening may not need medical attention, but your surgeon should be the judge of whether or not you should be seen in the office. A small opening will likely need close monitoring as the wound closes on its own. It often will take longer to close and leave a larger scar.

Your surgeon will know the details of your medical history, how the surgery was performed, and the potential complications that you face. This information, combined with what the wound looks like, will help to determine the treatment you will need.

When to Call Your Doctor

If the incision has just started to open, with only a small part spreading apart, cover it with a clean bandage and call your surgeon. If it is open wide, cover it, call your surgeon, and expect to go to the nearest emergency room.

Evisceration After Surgery

In rare circumstances, the wound may completely open and eviscerate. This can become quite serious or even life-threatening. Evisceration means the incision opens wide and the internal organs, often the intestines, begin to push out through the opening.

In some rare cases, the intestines can begin to fall out of the abdominal cavity through the incision. In these severe cases, surgery is needed to stabilize the incision. 

When to Call 911

Your wound may open wide enough to see internal organs or tissues. You also may have tissues bulging out of the wound. If this happens, cover the area with a moist sterile bandage and call 911. To prevent shock, lie down with your legs elevated 8 to 12 inches.

Prevention

Inspect your incision daily during wound care. This will help you to spot any issues before they become severe.

Look at your incision. Is it draining any fluid that looks suspicious? Does it look better than it did the week before? Does your incision look red or angry instead of steadily getting better each day?

If your incision is not healing in a slow and steady manner, you will need to address it with the staff at your surgeon's office, or your surgeon.

Bracing your wound can help to prevent your incision from opening after surgery. Plan to brace your wound when coughing, sneezing, rising from a seated position, or when having a bowel movement.

You can do this by crossing your arms and squeezing, or by hugging a pillow. You can also use your hands to put pressure on the incision.

If you are straining to have a bowel movement, consider using a stool softener or a gentle laxative to decrease how hard you need to push. Increase your water intake because this may also help to prevent constipation.

Summary

If you've had surgery, then it's likely you have an incision that needs to heal for several weeks.

If the incision opens slightly, it may not be a serious issue, but call your surgeon's office to be sure. If the opening is wide, and especially if tissues are visible inside the incision or organs begin to push through, call your doctor and seek emergency care right away.

A Word From Verywell

Incision care isn't as hard as you might think. Take a good look at your incision daily. It should appear to be getting a little better each day or so. Keep your incision clean but don't scrub it or use harsh cleansers. If the incision appears to be getting worse or starting to open, let the surgeon's office know and they can guide you in what your next steps should be.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should I do if stitches break open?

    If stitches start to separate, the incision should be covered with a clean bandage. Keep an eye on the wound in case it opens up any further. See your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

  • How long does surgical glue stay on?

    Surgical glue, also called skin glue, usually stays on for five to 10 days. The glue forms into a scab that peels or falls off on its own. If it leaves behind a scar, it may take six months to fade.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Family Physicians. Caring for your incision after surgery.

  2. Aksamija G, Mulabdic A, Rasic I, Aksamija L. Evaluation of risk factors of surgical wound dehiscence in adults after laparotomy. Med Arch. 2016;70(5):369-372.  doi:10.5455/medarh.2016.70.369-372

  3. Salles VJA, Saba E, Pissinnin ER, et al. Complication related to colostomy orifice: intestinal evisceration. J. Coloproctol. (Rio J.). 2011;31(4). doi:10.1590/S2237-93632011000400014

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Incision care: Risks/benefits.

  5. Medline Plus. Stool softeners.

  6. National Health Service (NHS). How do I care for a wound treated with skin glue?

Additional Reading