NHS England says that hernia mesh is its “recommended method” for treating hernias and has been successful for several decades.
However, some experts say that there are thousands of hernia mesh patients living in chronic pain, according to the BBC.
A hernia occurs when an organ, intestine, or fatty tissue squeezes through a hole or weak spot in the surrounding muscle or connective tissue. In treating a hernia, the bulging tissue can be pushed back and then covered with the mesh material.
One in ten people will develop a hernia, according to the BBC.
Leila Hackett had an umbilical hernia mesh repair in 2013. She said that she could immediately feel the mesh inside her body.
“It started off like fiery burning agony, but it never stopped hurting or itching,” Hackett told the BBC. “It was like somebody scratching you from inside your body. It’s so unpleasant and constant.”
Hackett told her general practitioner about the pain many times, but was assured the mesh was not the source.
Two years after her surgery, Hackett was taken to the hospital after the mesh had become stuck to her internal organs, causing her bowel to twist.
“The pain got so agonizing I was just screaming on all fours,” Hackett told the BBC.
It took four hours for her surgeon to pick all of the material out of her body.
Hackett said as soon as she awoke from the surgery, she knew the mesh had been removed.
“I felt normal again,” she said to the BBC.
In some cases, it can be even more difficult to trace chronic pain back to hernia mesh. Martin Kincey, for example, had an inguinal hernia repair, but did not begin to feel pain until 12 years after the surgery.
Kincey told the BBC that he used to live a very active lifestyle, but now he can no longer play sports.
“The simplest of movements can be seriously painful,” Kincey told the BBC. “It feels like I have been stabbed with something hot.”
Similar to Leila Hackett’s experience, Kincey’s doctors are resistant to investigating the mesh. He has had multiple scans, blood tests, and colonoscopies — all of which came back clear — but the mesh complications have not been pursued.
“There must be thousands of people who are experiencing pain who don’t realize it could be the mesh,” Kincey said to the BBC. “It might not be to blame, but until it’s investigated, how can we know?”
In the case of groin hernias alone, studies show that 10 to 15 percent of patients will experience chronic pain following a repair, as reported by the BBC.
Peter Jones, a former general surgeon, spent much of his career removing mesh from groin hernia patients.
Jones told the BBC that although at least half of patients will experience a smooth recovery from mesh repair, in his opinion, the chance of a poor outcome is too high to take the risk.
“Sever pain is a common problem and patients aren’t being warned about it,” Jones said to the BBC.
He also said he believes litigation could have a real impact.
“If enough people got together and said, ‘We are suffering and we weren’t warned about it,’ that could put a dent into the mesh repair for hernias,” Jones told the BBC.
There is an alternate treatment to mesh for hernia repair called the Shouldice repair. It works by placing the bulge back inside the body and then overlapping and securing layers of the abdominal wall.
The technique, developed at the Shouldice Hernia Centre in Toronto, has a 99.5 percent lifetime success rate on first-time groin hernias.
Some surgeons have called on the NHS to teach this new technique to its staff and provide patients with a choice for treatment.
NHS responded that the Shouldice repair was difficult to replicate in its hospitals.
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