Skin grafts are very thin sheets of healthy skin taken from one part of the body and put on another part. They are used to treat skin damaged by burns, infection, or injury. When possible, the doctor takes the healthy skin from a place that is hard to see or that's often covered by clothes.
In many cases, skin grafts only use the top layer of skin. This is called a split-thickness graft. When more layers are needed, it's called a full-thickness graft. The kind you need depends on how much damage you have and where it is.
In a split-thickness graft, the doctor removes a strip of healthy skin with a special tool. This skin usually comes from the inner thigh or rear end (buttocks). Then the doctor puts the strip on the damaged area and attaches it with stitches or staples. If the area is large, the doctor uses several small strips. You will grow a new layer of skin in the place where the strips of skin were removed.
In a full-thickness graft, only small pieces of skin are used. This is because the skin does not grow back and the edges have to be stitched together. Skin for this type of graft usually comes from behind the ears or from the neck, upper arm, lower belly, or groin area.
If the graft is small, the doctor will probably give you a shot of medicine to numb the area before surgery. For a larger one, you will probably get medicine to make you sleep during surgery.
After surgery, you may have a bandage stitched over the graft. The doctor will remove this in 4 to 10 days. The stitches or staples will be removed in 7 to 10 days.
For small grafts, you will probably go home 1 to 2 hours after surgery. For large grafts or ones in difficult areas, you may need to spend 5 to 10 days in the hospital.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Surgery can be stressful. This information will help you understand what you can expect. And it will help you safely prepare for surgery.
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Current as of: April 17, 2018
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine & Ellen K. Roh MD - Dermatology
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