I recently visited a friend whom I hadn’t seen in years and had been very ill. And whilst she was making a good recovery from her illness, she told me that she had just found out about another unrelated health set back and would need further surgery. A few years ago she had a transvaginal mesh implant to fix her stress incontinence. A couple of months ago she found a lump in her vagina that turned out to be a result of mesh erosion where bits of the mesh implant had protruded through the vaginal wall. I was shocked to hear about the number of women affected and the pain they endure daily as a result of these implants. But what’s even more appalling is that this procedure was still being performed even after concerns were raised. After listening to my friend and reading up about this I felt compelled to blog about this.
If you’ve had mesh implants to treat incontinence or pelvic prolapse following childbirth then this is a must read.
Urogynaecologist Sohier Elneil told Sky News, “It’s a huge problem. I think it’s bigger than Thalidomide, because the numbers of those affected are much more. And if we look at the problem globally then it’s worse than the metal-on-metal hips and the PIP scandal as well.”
Urogynaecological meshes (sometimes known as transvaginal meshes) are used to treat stress incontinence, a condition that can lead to women leaking from their bladder when doing impact activities such as running and jumping, or when sneezing or coughing. The condition is very common in women after childbirth and at the menopause – around 20% of women are affected sufficiently for it to be a problem in their daily lives.
The meshes are also sometimes offered as a treatment for women suffering from pelvic organ prolapse. Pelvic organ prolapse affects up to half of women who have had children, and occurs when a pelvic organ – such as the bladder, rectum or uterus – “sags” and moves out of place. This can happen when the pelvic floor muscles, ligaments and tissue that hold the organs in place are weak or damaged.
More than 15,000 women have received the implants, according to the BBC, despite negative reports of the procedure. The women suing are levelling their criticism in particular at huge company Johnson and Johnson, who are one of the largest producers of the implants.
And cases aren’t just mounting in the UK. Huge court cases have been taking place across the world. In Australia, the Australian Pelvic Mesh Support Group caught the world’s media’s attention after they released a series of statements from women, expressing their outrage over how they have been treated by doctors regarding their complaints.
Some gynaecologists are even suggesting anal sex as an alternative to vaginal sex for patients affected.
One mesh sufferer wrote, ‘The suggestion that women who are unable to have vaginal intercourse should practise anal instead, completely devalues a woman’s right to a full and healthy sex life as an active, empowered and fulfilled participant.
‘It suggests that a woman is nothing more than a receptacle to satisfy men and that ‘any hole will do’. I’m appalled that anyone, particularly a woman’s treating medical practitioner, would be so thoughtless and arrogant as to suggest that anal sex is an adequate solution to sexual dysfunction.’
Some men have even been injured by the protruding mesh during intercourse.
Margaret Byrne, who shared her story with TheJournal.ie last year, spoke at the presentation. She underwent one of these operations in 2000 as a treatment for stress incontinence.
She told TDs that she first realised something had gone wrong with the operation when she and her husband resumed sexual relations.
There was an audible gasp from those listening to Byrne when she told them there was “something sticking there, cutting my husband” and that it “had a sharp edge”.
Dr Elneil told the BBC about the affected patients she has seen. She said, “They become so incapacitated that many of them are either walking by crutches or sitting in wheelchairs and perhaps more dramatically so, they become unable to look after their families
These are just some of the comments from women affected by mesh erosion. More testimonials can be found on the following blog that has been set up to raise awareness of the life changing risks of a “simple” day case operation.
“I felt like cracking up at times. GPs and nurses need to know how bad this operation can be. If mesh implants need removing it is like trying to get chewing gum out of matted hair.”
“This is not living, it is existing. I want to stop others suffering what I am going through because quite frankly it is hell. The reality is I can’t plan anything as I don’t know how I will be from one day to the next.”
Sling The Mesh says all women who have had mesh are a ticking time bomb. It can take years for problems to cut in. One women on our group had it slice through her urethra after 18 years. Average time for problems to begin is three to four years after implantation. Jeremy Hunt says the review will not go into the science of mesh yet this is where the problem lies. Most studies do not use quality of life questionnaires that pick up the devastation of pain, lost sex lives or constant urinary infections (cysitits) . Studies concentrate on if the mesh has “cured” the problem of prolapse or incontinence.
Many studies are short term or they compare mesh to mesh – so of course mesh will come out as a favourable option! Trials should compare mesh to the old fashioned natural tissue repairs.
In February the Government announced a review into three women’s health scandals, mesh, Primodos and valproate, over seen by Baroness Cumberlege. “We are delighted that the Government has announced a review into Mesh, Primodos and Valproate. but also deeply saddened that so many women’s and families lives have been shattered by medical devices and drugs that were never tested on humans before being released en masse to women globally. We were the human guinea pigs. These are three huge women’s health disasters. The people who benefited most were the shareholders and big CEOs.
OWEN SMITH – Commenting on the news, Chair of the APPG on Surgical Mesh Implants, Owen Smith, said:“The mesh scandal shows what can go wrong when devices are aggressively marketed to doctors and then used in patients for whom they were unsuited or unnecessary. Mesh devices should be seen against that history of medicalisation and miss-selling and should be subject to the most stringent clinical trials before being deployed in surgery.
So what are the alternatives to mesh implants:
- I know I go on about this but – Pelvic floor exercises can be very effective.
- Vaginal pessaries. A device made of rubber (latex) or silicone is inserted into the vagina and left in place to support the vaginal walls and pelvic organs.
- In fact pelvic floor exercises and pessaries for prolapse should be used as a first line treatment before women agree to go under the knife, the report adds.
- Women should be reassured that if they do need surgery however, there are several different types of surgery that involve lifting and supporting the pelvic organs without the use of mesh implants. This could be by stitching the organ into place or supporting the existing tissues to make them stronger.
Other blogs on this issue you might find helpful: