Since the 1950s, doctors have recommended the use of mesh to support damaged tissue as a hernia heals. Yet based on claims against manufacturers, a number of patients experience complications after hernia mesh surgery, including adhesions, bowel obstruction, chronic pain and infection. Hernia mesh complications can occur not long after surgery, including hematomas, surgical site infections, bowel or bladder injuries and vascular infections.
On the other hand, long-term issues can emerge years after the initial procedure – particularly if the mesh detaches and migrates or the body continues to regard it as a foreign substance. If you’ve developed chronic pain, an infection or another life-altering symptom years after being implanted with hernia mesh, here’s what you should know.
Research Into Long-Term Hernia Mesh Complications
Most data on hernia mesh is related to immediate reactions following surgery. However, a study published in JAMA examined the rate at which long-term complications may occur and the type of procedure.
Researchers examined 3,242 patients over five years: 34.5 percent who underwent open mesh repair, 11.3 percent who had non-mesh repair and the remainder who went through laparoscopic mesh repair. Early on, patients who had an open mesh or laparoscopic procedure saw lower rates of hernia recurrence compared to the non-mesh repair group.
However, in following these patients over the next few years, nearly six percent who initially had open mesh repair and 3.7 percent of laparoscopic patients experienced at least one complication. For non-mesh repair patients, only 0.8 percent of individuals experienced long-term complications.
Why Long-Term Hernia Mesh Complications Occur
Whether synthetic, tissue or hybrid, hernia mesh has potential to degrade or break apart. The body may also continue to treat it as a foreign substance. As a result of these factors, patients may experience reactions like unexplained inflammation or irritation around where the mesh was inserted or internal bleeding related to migration or organ perforation.
The following symptoms are early signs of long-term hernia mesh complications:
- Difficulty gaining or losing weight
- A change in stomach shape
- A pulling sensation or sharp pain from the mesh coming in contact with organ tissue
Removing the mesh is one solution but it’s not absolute. Multiple revision procedures may be needed to remove the material, particularly if it broke and migrated or has adhered to other organs. The resulting damage may also leave patients with nerve pain that never completely subsides.
Although all types of hernia mesh have potential to result in long-term complications, synthetic materials have a higher likelihood of rejection-related symptoms.
Types of Long-Term Hernia Mesh Complications
Long-term hernia mesh complications can take on any of the following forms.
Infection can be an immediate and long-term complication following hernia mesh surgery. However, sources and location vary. Patients who recently underwent hernia mesh surgery may experience an infection around the sutures, which can be treated with antibiotics.
Long term, a deeper chronic bacterial infection may result from hernia mesh rejection, perforation or a surgeon’s error causing intestinal fluid to leak. There is potential for an abdominal abscess, fistula or osteomyelitis to form. In these cases, patients need intravenous antimicrobial treatment to manage the infection.
A sharp pain may emerge years after a patient was implanted with mesh, possibly accompanied by irritation, increased sensitivity or general discomfort in the area. This sensation persists no matter the modifications made and may affect quality of life. Chronic pain may be constant, related to certain activities, or be concentrated to one area.
Following mesh implantation, chronic pain may occur in conjunction with a deeper infection or nerve damage related to migration or organ perforation. Removing the mesh does not always decrease the sensation and this complication may contribute to urinary incontinence, depression, anxiety and other long-term issues.
Organ and Bowel Perforation
Mesh materials have potential to break apart. If shards become loose, they can migrate through the body where they abrade, erode or perforate organ tissue. In relation to the long-term complications, perforation can contribute to infection and chronic pain, as well as scar tissue formation and bowel obstruction. With time, patients may also develop nerve damage or a fistula due to migrating material.
Sometimes hernia mesh does not integrate well with the body, particularly if a synthetic material was used. As a result, the body continues to fight the mesh as if it were a foreign substance. Your doctor may prescribe medications to better manage symptoms but, should the body’s reaction continue this way, your doctor may recommend revision surgery.
Scar Tissue or Adhesions
Your body may also treat the insertion of hernia mesh as it would a traumatic injury. As a result, scar tissue forms, potentially causing an adhesion between tissue. This can contribute to chronic pain, alter digestion and urination, or create a bowel obstruction.
Hernia mesh can create a blockage in the bowel that reduces blood flow to the intestines. The blockage may be due to mesh migration or the formation of scar tissue. Signs of a bowel obstruction include a combination of bloating, cramps, vomiting, constipation and being unable to pass gas or stool.
If ignored, a bowel obstruction may develop into a life-threatening complication. Revision surgery becomes more complex, requiring removal of both the mesh and any scarred or damaged tissue.
Did you experience long-term complications following hernia mesh surgery? Contact the product liability lawyers at Trantolo & Trantolo today.