How to Know Your Surgical Cut Is Healing Right

When you're resting at home after your operation, you'll need to keep an eye on the wound your surgeon left behind. It's going to go through some changes in the next month, and you'll probably find yourself wondering: Is this normal, or am I getting an infection?

Learn a little bit about how your will cut heal to help you figure out when to relax and when you need to call the doctor.

Stages of Healing

Your wound will go through three phases.

Stage 1: Swelling. The first steps toward healing start right away. Blood vessels in the area of the cut begin to form clots that keep you from losing too much blood.

White blood cells in your body move into the wound. Think of them as infection-control agents. Their job is to fight bacteria.

When you're in this phase, which can go on for up to 6 days after your surgery, it's normal to see some redness and swelling. Your doctor can tell you how much is OK. Also, your wound may feel warm, and it may hurt around the site.

Watch out for oozing pus that smells bad. It could be a sign that an infection is starting. Another tip-off: Your pain, redness, and swelling don't go away or are getting worse. Call your doctor if this happens.

Stage 2: Rebuilding. This part of your healing lasts from about 4 days to a month after your surgery. A scar starts to form on the cut. The edges will pull together, and you might see some thickening there. It's also normal to spot some new red bumps inside your shrinking wound.

You might feel sharp, shooting pains in your wound area. This may be a sign that you're getting sensations back in your nerves. The feeling should become less intense and happen less often over time, but check with your doctor if you're concerned.

Stage 3: Remodeling. You're in the home stretch: Your wound has filled in and a new surface has formed.

This final period can last from 6 months to 2 years. You'll see some changes in your scar. It will go from looking thick, red, and raised to thinner, flatter, and whiter.

Infections

They're rare, but they do happen. If you're going to get an infection, it's usually in the first month after your surgery.

Your wound could be infected if you have:

  • Fever
  • Delay in your healing
  • Pus, redness, and pain getting worse
  • Tenderness, warmth, and swelling near your wound

Most of the time, infections in the area of your wound can be treated with antibiotics.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on April 11, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Surgical Site Infections."

St. Luke's Clinic: "Physiology of Wound Healing."

Virginia Mason Medical Center: "Q and A Wound Healing."

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