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Discharge Instructions: Caring for Your Abdominal Incision

You are going home with stitches, surgical staples, special strips of tape, or surgical skin glue. One of these items was used to close your cut (incision), help stop bleeding, and speed healing. Follow the tips on this sheet to help your incision heal. 

Home care

  • Clean your work area:

    • Put pets in another room.

    • Use soap and water to clean the surface you’ll be working on.

    • Spread a clean cloth or paper towel over the surface.

    • Move away from the clean surface if you need to cough or sneeze.

  • Gather your supplies and put them on the clean work area:

    • Packaged dressing for your wound

    • Irrigation solutions (if using these)

    • Pair of scissors (cleaned with soap and water)

    • Medical tape

    • Disposable gloves (2 pairs)

    • Clean plastic trash bag (open it before you wash your hands)

  • Wash your hands:

    • Use liquid soap.

    • Work up a good lather and scrub for 1 to 2 minutes.

    • Be sure to scrub between your fingers and under your nails.

    • Rinse with warm water, keeping your fingers pointed down.

    • Use a clean paper towel to dry your hands. Turn off the faucet.

  • Prepare your dressing supplies:

    • Peel back the edges of the dressing packages. Pour any irrigation solutions into solution cups. Don't touch the inside of the cups.

    • Cut each piece of tape 4 inches longer than the dressing.

  • Remove the old dressing:

    • Put on disposable gloves.

    • Loosen the tape on the dressing by pulling gently toward the incision. Remove the dressing one layer at a time. Put it in the plastic bag right away.

    • Remove your gloves and put them in the plastic bag. Wash your hands.

    • Put on a new pair of gloves.

  • Clean and dress the incision:

    • Clean the incision and apply a new dressing as directed.

    • Don't remove the special strips of tape even if they are starting to loosen. 

    • Put all used supplies in the plastic bag. Remove your gloves last and put them in the plastic bag. Seal the bag and put it in the trash.

    • Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands again.

Care for specific closures

Follow these guidelines unless your healthcare provider tells you otherwise:

  • Stitches or staples. Once you no longer need to keep these dry, clean the wound daily. Use the directions listed above. First remove the bandage using clean hands. Then wash the area gently with soap and warm water. Use a wet cotton swab to loosen and remove any blood or crust that forms. Use antibiotic ointment only if told to do so by your provider. Then put on a new bandage.

  • Skin glue. Don’t put liquid, ointment, or cream on your wound while the glue is in place. Don't do any activities that cause heavy sweating. Protect the wound from sunlight. Don't scratch, rub, or pick at the glue. Don't put tape right over the glue. The glue should peel off in 5 to 10 days.

  • Surgical tape. Keep the area dry. If it gets wet, blot the area dry with a clean towel. Surgical tape often falls off in 7 to 10 days. If it has not fallen off after 10 days, contact your healthcare provider before taking it off yourself. If you are told to remove the tape, put mineral oil or petroleum jelly on a cotton ball. Gently rub the tape until it is removed.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider. Ask how long stitches or staples should be left in place. Go back for suture or staple removal as directed.  If tape closures were used, remove them yourself when your provider advises if they have not fallen off on their own. If skin glue was used, the glue will wear off by itself.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • More pain, bleeding, redness, swelling, or bad-smelling discharge around the incision area

  • Fever of  100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Shaking chills

  • Vomiting or upset stomach that doesn’t go away

  • Numbness, coldness, or tingling around the incision area, or changes in skin color. (Numbness around the incision is common. It can last for some time after surgery. Ask your provider if you should expect this.)

  • Opening of stitches or wound

  • Stitches or staples come apart or fall out or surgical tape falls off before 7 days, or as directed by your provider

Online Medical Reviewer: Jen Lehrer MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2022
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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