Health Risks Associated with Transvaginal Mesh
Pelvic floor disorders like stress urinary incontinence (SUI) and pelvic organ prolapse (POP) are the result of a pelvic floor that has been weakened by pregnancy and childbirth. These conditions are often undiagnosed until menopause, when decreased estrogen levels and tissue loss amplify symptoms.
For the many women who do not experience symptoms, treatment is unnecessary. But for women experiencing pain or discomfort associated with prolapse that is severe enough to interfere with daily life, conservative treatment is the first step. If symptoms are unresponsive, surgery to repair the pelvic floor may be the best option.
One surgical option involves transvaginal mesh, which is a synthetic, sling-like medical device that is implanted through the vagina to support the uterus, bladder and/or rectum.
Health Risks of Transvaginal Mesh
Unfortunately, up to 10 percent of women who undergo prolapse procedures using transvaginal mesh develop complications. The toll of these complications can be extensive, from mounting medical bills and chronic pain, to job loss, depression and loss of intimacy.
The mesh can erode through tissue, shrink or even perforate other organs, which can cause debilitating pelvic pain. Women may be unable to participate in activities they once enjoyed or be restricted to bed rest and unable to work.
In addition to pain, women have reported a range of problems such as unusual discharge, spotting or bleeding, frequent infections, urinary or fecal incontinence, strong vaginal odor, decreased libido and sexual dysfunction.
The complications related to sex typically occur as a result of the mesh eroding through the vaginal wall. For these women, sex can range from uncomfortable, at best, to terribly painful or impossible, at worst. The protruding rough edges of the mesh can be painful for a sexual partner as well.
These complications are not always reversible. Women facing revision surgery to remove transvaginal mesh should be prepared for multiple procedures. There’s a good chance that not all of the mesh can be removed, and there’s no guarantee of pain or symptom relief.
Conservative Treatment vs. Surgery
The weight gain, the morning sickness, the cravings and the labor pains — these are things women associate with pregnancy. But women may not even be aware of what the pelvic floor is or what it does.
This subject of pelvic floor health may not be broached until symptoms of pelvic floor disorders occur. Ideally, pelvic floor health should be a focus before, during and after pregnancy. Physical therapists who specialize in pelvic health can offer individualized instruction.
Kegel exercises, the isolated contraction of the pelvic floor muscles, should be performed daily. These contractions not only strengthen the pelvic floor, but they also can eliminate SUI, minimize prolapse symptoms, and heighten sexual sensation and satisfaction. Yoga and Pilates are examples of low-impact exercises that focus on strengthening the pelvic floor.
If symptoms of prolapse have already developed, chances are they cannot be reversed with Kegels or physical therapy. Women should discuss the safest treatment options with their doctor.
Linda Grayling writes for Drugwatch.com. She enjoys staying up to date on news about prescription drugs and medical devices.