What Is a Non-Absorbable Suture?

Marlene Garcia

A non-absorbable suture defines a material used to hold a wound closed until it heals and the suture can be removed. Surgeons typically use a non-absorbable suture material outside the body, where it can be easily accessed for removal. They usually prefer absorbable sutures inside the body to avoid opening the patient to remove stitches. A non-absorbable suture might be made of silk, cotton, steel, or a synthetic material.

Surgeons often use sutures that have to be removed by a medical practitioner.
Surgeons often use sutures that have to be removed by a medical practitioner.

Several synthetic non-absorbable sutures provide different advantages based on their use. A nylon material offers pliability and more strength than silk. It typically remains stable for two years and causes minimal reaction with tissue. Silk sutures also last two years and are coated with silicone or beeswax.

A non-absorbable suture might be made of silk, cotton, steel, or a synthetic material.
A non-absorbable suture might be made of silk, cotton, steel, or a synthetic material.

Cotton loses half its strength within six months, making it unsuitable as an internal suturing material. This type of suture commonly contains a coating of fibers to improve its strength. This non-absorbable suture material might be useful for wounds on the face from plastic surgery.

Suture kits for closing skin wounds are typically equipped with non-absorbable materials.
Suture kits for closing skin wounds are typically equipped with non-absorbable materials.

Stainless steel represents one of the most stable forms of a non-absorbable suture that lasts indefinitely. Heart surgeons commonly use the material to close the thoracic cavity after open-heart surgery. It is also used by neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons to permanently repair damage. Most people tolerate these sutures without inflammation, but they tend to kink and are considered hard to handle.

Medical tape may be applied over non-absorbable sutures.
Medical tape may be applied over non-absorbable sutures.

Other synthetic materials provide advantages for their various qualities. A non-absorbable suture made from polyester, for example, constitutes a long-lasting product that produces few reactions with tissue. Other manmade suture materials might offer superior elasticity or hold knots wells. Doctors commonly choose the type they believe will close an opening or wound without causing adverse reactions.

Surgeons consider certain characteristics essential when selecting absorbable or non-absorbable suturing products. The material must be strong enough to do the job without degrading before healing occurs, along with being easy to use. Doctors look for materials free from toxic components that might spark allergic reactions. Sterility of the product represents an essential consideration when physicians choose the type of suture to use.

Sutures come in various sizes made with one strand or multiple strands. The multistrand materials add strength but increase risks of infection because they absorb more fluid. Natural collagen sutures made from animal intestines cause most allergic reactions in patients. In some situations, doctors opt to forgo stitches in favor of other methods to close a wound. Staples and adhesive tape illustrate two alternatives.

Non-absorbable sutures are usually used to seal external wounds that can be easily accessed for removal.
Non-absorbable sutures are usually used to seal external wounds that can be easily accessed for removal.

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