MIAMI – Another reason not to prescribe opioids for postoperative pain – besides potentially adding to the epidemic the nation – comes from evidence showing these agents can impair wound healing.
In addition, epidermal sutures to close dermatologic surgery sites may be unnecessary if deep suturing is done proficiently. These and other pearls to optimize wound closure were suggested by Robert S. Kirsner, MD, PhD, professor and chair of the department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami.
Avoid opioids for postoperative pain
“We know the opioid epidemic is a big problem. An estimated 5-8 million Americans use them for chronic pain,” Dr. Kirsner said at the Orlando Dermatology Aesthetic and Clinical Conference. “And there has been a steady increase in the use of illicit and prescription opioids.”
“The take-home message is that for the first time we have patient-oriented data that suggests that opioids impair healing,” Dr. Kirsner said. “So avoid opioids if at all possible.”
The precise mechanism remains unknown. The most likely explanation, he said, is that opioids inhibit substance P, a peptide that promotes healing in animal models. Interestingly, he added, adding the opioid antagonist naltrexone in animal studies improves healing.
Consider skipping epidermal sutures in some cases
Dermatologists who place really good deep sutures when closing a wound might be able to forgo traditional epidural suturing, Dr. Kirsner said. “If you believe the literature, you can actually forget epidermal sutures. That’s hard for us. We’re trained to put epidermal sutures in, and changing habits can be difficult.”
A prospective, randomized study demonstrated no difference in cosmesis at 6 months, for example, in a split scar study where half of each wound was closed with epidural suturing and half was not (). In another randomized study, researchers found something similar when comparing buried interrupted subcuticular suturing of wounds with and without adhesive strips to close the epidermis ( ). “When they looked at the scars, complications, and cosmesis at 6 months, there was no difference,” Dr. Kirsner said.
“Forget epidermal sutures if you’re brave enough,” he said.
Dr. Kirsner acknowledged that some dermatologists might point out a requirement to evert wound edges with epidermal stitches. “It turns out you don’t need to, again, if you believe the literature.” He cited a randomized, controlled, split scar trial that revealed no difference in cosmetic outcomes according to blinded physician ratings or patient reports at 3 months (). “So maybe the concept of wound eversion is not as important as we were originally taught.”
And speaking of wound edges …
When debriding a nonhealing wound ...
There may be something highly abnormal about a nonhealing wound edge, Dr. Kirsner said. In fact, they can be phenotypically and genotypically different from surrounding tissue, including characteristic overexpression of c-Myc and beta catenin. These two factors in higher amounts can inhibit the migration of keratinocytes into a wound to promote healing.
“Sometimes we debride the wound because it’s necrotic,” Dr. Kirsner said. But in the case of a nonhealing wound, it can be more effective to debride the edges to remove the abnormal tissue. “You can change the fortune of a wound by debriding the edge. You want to remove all the abnormal tissue, and give it a chance to heal.” Pathology supports the elevated presence of the c-Myc and beta catenin factors in the “healing incompetent” tissue around the edges of nonhealing wounds, he added.
If a patient is unusually anxious or stressed
Stress can impair wound healing by 40%, Dr. Kirsner said (). Some anxiety before a dermatologic surgery procedure is normal for many patients, but there also are unusual circumstances. For example, “if a patient comes for cyst excision but learns while in the waiting room that his dog just died,” he said. It’s often better to reschedule the procedure than to proceed.
“What you can do on a daily basis is create a stress-free environment” as well, Dr. Kirsner said.
“From a practical standpoint, things that can impair healing include patient depression, negativism, isolation, and postoperative pain,” he added. The mechanism between elevated stress and impaired wound healing includes release of catecholamines that induce the action of endogenous steroids. This, in turn, can cause a cascade of events that reduce inflammatory cells and their pro-healing cytokines, thereby leading to poor healing.
“All of this is mediated through the love hormone, oxytocin. Maybe someday we will be able to give oxytocin to speed healing.”