Pelvic mesh implantation horrors

Thousands of women undergo operations to get pelvic meshes inserted surgically within their lower bodies to prevent prolapsing of the abdominal organs after childbirth complications.

Studies including one from the Journal of Prenatal Medicine, have shown that after childbirth, there is a risk of poor bladder and bowel control in one fifth of all women. Because of the muscles and ligaments of the pelvic floor becoming weak, there is a risk of the organs prolapsing or dropping down. This makes urination, defecation and intercourse painful. These meshes are supposed to protect the abdominal organs from sagging by providing support. The mesh is inserted in a short 20 minute procedure to provide support to the pelvic floor.

So like many other women, an Australian woman Linda Schulz, 48 too went in for a pelvic mesh implant. After the procedure however, she started feeling numb in her right leg. Within a few weeks the mesh cut into her abdominal and pelvic organs and it was painful for her to move without feeling the mesh cut into her like a knife. So she along with hundreds of other women last year petitioned the Australian Senate to look into these procedures as they were all suffering from these dreadful complications after surgery. The Senate looked into the matter and after around a year, they released their findings in a report yesterday (28th of March 2018).

The enquiry began in February 2017 after Sen. Derryn Hinch heard the petition from the affected women. All through 2017, the Senate conducted hearings of the patients and the implant makers. The women complained of several injuries they suffered from the implants and the pain. Some of them even reported injuring their partners when they had intercourse with a splinter that had broken off from the implant.

According to the latest report from the Senate, these implants must be the “last resort”. They raised the issues with lack of information regarding the procedure provided to the patients beforehand so that they could make an informed choice. They found that the medical practitioners had been “overusing” the procedure where there could have been other treatment alternatives. These alternative options were not informed to the patients, the report said. The report outlines several recommendations regarding the treatment guidelines for prolapse. It also outlines the training of the medical personnel in this regard and attempts to stop and prevent the financial inducements from the makers to the medical personnel. All high risk implant devices need to be recorded and a list of procedures conducted in the past also need to be provided for audit, the report says.

Sen. Rachel Siewert spoke to the Senate while releasing the report stating, “Women that have had those implants, who have those outcomes ... have been failed in a monumental way by the system and by certain people in the medical profession who they trusted… I hope that we never have to have another inquiry where we see such suffering from the witnesses.”

This January, Johnson & Johnson, one of the makers of these meshes, withdrew their product from the Australian market after a legal action from over 800 women who had suffered after the implant.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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