Sensational news coverage and ads by law firms have spread fear among women about vaginal mesh, a medical device used to treat pelvic organ prolapse (POP), which occurs when weakened pelvic muscles allow these organs to drop from their normal position.
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With so much negative information out there, what are the facts about vaginal mesh?
“Women need to know that they can’t believe everything they hear on the news,” says gynecologist Marie Paraiso, MD, Head, Section of Urogynecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery. “Early meshes were not well designed for acceptance into the body, but not all mesh is bad.”
For women who have had vaginal mesh inserted, Dr. Paraiso advises watching for the most common complications. If your doctor is recommending vaginal mesh, be sure he or she is highly skilled for the procedure and that other alternatives have been ruled out.
How vaginal mesh works
Vaginal mesh has been used since about 2005 to treat POP, and is very similar to the mesh products that have been used to treat hernias for many years.
“It’s placed in the space between the vagina and bladder or rectum and attached to the ligaments in the pelvis,” says Dr. Paraiso. “It spans the area where the prolapse is taking place and gives the vagina the support it once had.”
The way these early vaginal meshes were designed, along with the inexperience of many physicians using them, led the Food and Drug Administration to issue a statement in 2008 warning of serious complications from these devices, she says. A second warning followed in 2011.
What are the complications?
Most complications from vaginal mesh occur in the first three to six months following the procedure, says Dr. Paraiso.
If you’ve received a vaginal mesh procedure, watch for:
- Pain during intercourse
- Other types of chronic pain
- Fever or vaginal discharge that’s bloody or malodorous
- A recurrence of the prolapse
What are the alternatives?
Every woman who receives a recommendation for vaginal mesh should ask about alternative methods of treatment. Dr. Paraiso and her colleagues use vaginal mesh rarely, and only in select cases where it’s needed.
Most frequently, she can use a woman’s own tissues to create additional support for the pelvic organs.
“There are surgeons with very good experience who are well-prepared for pelvic floor surgery,” says Dr. Paraiso. “Ask your doctor what type of training and experience they have in treating POP, and ask what your alternatives are.”