Understanding the Risks of Transvaginal Mesh
Posted on Monday, June 11th, 2018 at 4:58 pm
If you’ve watched cable TV in the past several years, chances are, you’ve seen a warning about transvaginal mesh pop up on your screen. This may have left you wondering, what exactly is transvaginal mesh, and why is it causing problems?
What Is Transvaginal Mesh?
Transvaginal mesh is exactly what it sounds like – a netted material that is inserted through the vagina. The mesh can be made from plastics and polyesters (usually polypropylene), disinfected cow or pig tissue or a mix of synthetic and natural materials. Its primary purpose is to strengthen weakened tissue for better organ support.
Generally, transvaginal mesh is used as a treatment for two common issues:
- Pelvic organ prolapse (POP) – When organs such as the uterus, bladder, urethra, bowel and rectum are no longer supported by the pelvic tissues, they begin to bulge into the vagina, distorting its shape and putting pressure on it. Transvaginal mesh can be inserted along the front, top or back of the vagina to support the surrounding organs and reduce symptoms.
- Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) – A condition where a person accidentally urinates when physical stress is put on the bladder or urethra. This could happen when laughing or sneezing, or it could result from physical activity like exercise or bending. SUI occurs when the pelvic floor muscles and urinary sphincter weaken. A bladder sling or vaginal tape made of transvaginal mesh can support the bladder and urethra.
Who Is Most Likely to Have Transvaginal Mesh Surgery?
Women in their 40s and beyond are most likely to have undergone transvaginal mesh surgery. This is because POP and SUI often result from tissue trauma that happened during childbirth. Tissues also tend to weaken with age, and menopause can increase the effects. Obesity can also exacerbate symptoms due to the additional pressure put on the pelvic tissues.
Those who have had a hysterectomy can also be susceptible to POP, SUI and similar issues. When such a large organ in the reproductive system is removed, the vagina can become misshapen and its walls can collapse.
Is Transvaginal Mesh Unsafe?
Though transvaginal mesh has been used since the 1970s and is based on hernia repair mesh originating in the 1950s, it poses significant risks, including:
- Mesh erosion (including protrusion of the mesh from the vaginal walls)
- Scarring, tightening and shrinkage of the vagina
- Pain, especially during sex
- Unexpected bleeding
- Nerve and muscle problems
- Organ perforation, which often requires surgery to fix
Recent data suggests that anywhere between seven and 21 percent of patients have complications with a transvaginal mesh procedure.1 The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) stated that complications from transvaginal mesh are “not rare” in 2011 and then reclassified transvaginal mesh from a class II, moderate-risk device to a class III, high-risk device for POP in 2016.2,3 Transvaginal mesh is banned in New Zealand and partially banned in Australia and the U.K., but allowed in the U.S., where it is still offered by many medical professionals.
What Are Some Alternatives to Transvaginal Mesh?
Fortunately, many women who have POP and SUI experience little to no disruption in their everyday lives. This means they can potentially go without any treatment. Those who do experience symptoms may wish to try:
- Muscle exercises – Kegels and similar exercises help re-strengthen the pelvic floor and reduce mild symptoms.
- Pessaries – These small, specially fitted silicone devices shaped like an arch, ring or disc are placed inside the vagina for additional support.
- Urethral inserts – These devices physically block the flow of urine out of the body, which may be helpful for those with SUI who don’t wish to avoid physical activity for fear of embarrassment.
- Estrogen treatments – Menopause can cause or worsen POP, and some women may benefit from supplemental estrogen to manage their symptoms.
- Surgeries without transvaginal mesh – A medical professional can use the patient’s own tissue to create support instead of using plastic, polyester or animal tissue. While the initial surgery poses higher risks, long-term complications are far less likely.
Compensation for Transvaginal Mesh Complications in Alabama
The FDA and medical device manufacturers have cut corners when it comes to testing, manufacturing and approving transvaginal mesh products. Unfortunately, this has led to many health issues caused by defective products all over the country.
If you or a loved one has suffered complications and additional health care costs from transvaginal mesh, you may be entitled to financial compensation. At Farris, Riley & Pitt, LLP, our attorneys work hard to get you the money you deserve. Call us any time at (205) 324-1212 for your FREE case evaluation.