Hernias occur when an organ, intestine or fatty tissue squeezes through a hole or a weak spot in the surrounding muscle or connective tissue.
Mesh, which is used to hold the tissue in its proper place, is the recommended treatment for the approximate 80,000 hernia operations that take place each year.
Despite the fact that hernia mesh can lead to serious complications like organ perforation, bowel obstruction, adhesion and infection, many patients are not offered an alternative method of treatment.
Such was the case for Jennifer Coles, who had an operation to treat her inguinal hernia in February 2017. Because of the constant pain caused by the mesh, Coles went from an active 33-year-old to being essentially confined to her home.
“It’s changed everything for me,” Coles said, as reported by Sky News. “I woke up from my operation and it felt like someone was stabbing me in the stomach. I expected some pain but it felt really odd.”
Coles compares the pain she felt every time she took a step to “barbed wire pressing in,” and “a piece of glass right down in [her] groin.”
Although many doctors did not recognize her symptoms and instead recommended medication to manage the pain, Coles ultimately decided to have the mesh surgically removed.
“The operation to remove the mesh was traumatic and very risky, as the hernia is close to major arteries,” Jennifer said. “[But] after having it removed on one side I am already in less pain and can walk better.”
Similarly, Damian Murtagh underwent a hernia mesh repair four years ago and is still living in constant pain. He says that men, who are more likely to get a hernia, are often less willing to discuss their pain with a doctor.
“I have met men who have no problem discussing their problems, where the pain is and how it affects them, but keep not wanting to talk to a doctor,” Murtagh said. “What’s the point when they don’t tell you the truth and all they want to do is give you painkillers?”
“It is regretful that a small yet significant amount of patients are suffering pain, but overall the success rate of mesh for hernia repair is excellent,” Nicholas Markham, consultant from the Royal College of Surgeons, said. “Mesh has been used for more than 30 years and is a lot easier and quicker than alternative surgery and patients recover quicker.”
Vladimir Iakovlev, a Canadian pathologist, has specialized in mesh for five years and has advised UK politicians on its safety. He, on the other hand, said he is “overwhelmed by the volume and scale of complications.”
He believes the underlying problem is the lack of long term research.
“Unfortunately at this point we don’t know the exact number of complications because the studies that are available now are of low quality,” Iakovlev said. “If the case isn’t flagged as positive for complications automatically it’s assigned to the group where there is no complications, so we are getting these falsely negative cases.”
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