Surgical mesh is a woven fabric used for chest wall reconstruction, strengthening tissues, to provide support for internal organs, and to treat surgical or traumatic wounds. The fabric is usually made of Gore-Tex®, Teflon®, polypropylene, or some other polymer, although a titanium mesh has been used in some back surgeries. The most common types are hernia mesh, stress urinary incontinence slings, and mesh for treating prolapse.
A hernia is caused when an internal organ, usually the small intestine, pushes through a weak spot in the lining of the abdominal wall. This condition does not repair itself, and will generally deteriorate over time. Surgery is often recommended to prevent the intestine from becoming strangulated, or constricted, causing serious complications. Surgical mesh is often used in a hernia repair and is placed on or under the damaged area in the abdomen.
Another common use of this fabric is in the treatment of pelvic organ prolapse, a condition that occurs when one of the pelvic organs —; the bladder, uterus, bowel or rectum — drops from its normal position and pushes against the vaginal wall. This can happen when the muscles and connective tissues that hold the organs in place are weakened. If surgery is required, mesh is sometimes inserted through an incision in the vaginal wall to provide additional support for the affected organ.
Uterine prolapse occurs when the uterus falls from the pelvic cavity into the vagina. This generally happens in women who have had one or more vaginal deliveries, and can be caused by aging, a post-menopausal lack of estrogen, or obesity. Unless the condition causes undue discomfort, it is often left untreated. If surgery is warranted, a vaginal hysterectomy is sometimes recommended. Other procedures, like sacral colpopexy, leave the uterus in place and use surgical mesh to support it.
Another female condition that can be treated with this fabric is female stress urinary incontinence. This is a common condition in which urine is involuntarily leaked, and it can be caused by muscles weakened as a result of pregnancy, childbirth, or sustained heavy lifting. Non-surgical treatments include pelvic exercises and custom fitted devices worn to support the vagina. If surgery is indicated, than a variety of mesh slings are available that can be surgically installed to lift and support the urethra.
As with any surgical implant, some complications can occur, including infection, inflammation, tissue damage, and septic shock. There have been instances of surgical mesh used in hernia repair adhering to the intestines or causing injury to nearby organs, though most of those problems have been related to products that have been recalled. In rare cases, complications have also risen from mesh used to treat a prolapse. These problems generally included erosion of the mesh into the vagina, infection, or pain.