The Uncomfortable Truth about Vaginal Mesh Surgery

Group effort to fix incontinence

Hearing the words “vaginal mesh surgery” at the doctor’s office can set off alarms for many women. Visions of needles, masked surgeons, and groggy recovery rooms spring to mind. Not to mention recovery time and side effects. But if you’re a woman suffering from years, or possibly decades, of stress urinary incontinence (SUI), you may think the benefits outweigh the risks. Check out the potential complications of vaginal mesh surgery, plus learn about how new technology offers an over-the-counter treatment option.

Do I need surgery for SUI?

Many women experience bladder leakage when laughing, coughing, or exercising. But as those leaks increase, you may find your ability to manage your incontinence decreasing. Studies show that early intervention is a main factor in successfully treating SUI. After exhausting conservative treatments, such as Kegel exercises, many women assume that surgery is the only answer. Surgery to insert permanent vaginal mesh can have serious complications and should be approached with a lot of research after all avenues of treatment have been exhausted.

What is pelvic or vaginal mesh?

Pelvic and vaginal mesh, also known as “tape” or “sling,” is a synthetic material constructed out of polypropylene. When implanted during surgery, the material acts as a support for the bladder or other pelvic organs. Typically, synthetic mesh surgery is used to as a treat pelvic organ prolapse or severe SUI.

In 2019, the FDA banned the sale of pelvic mesh for the transvaginal repair of pelvic organ prolapse, a condition where the pelvic organs protrude into or below the vagina. However, vaginal mesh is still used for bladder sling surgery and transabdominal pelvic organ prolapse surgery.

Complications of vaginal mesh surgery

Vaginal mesh is a permanent implant. After surgery, the patient’s own tissue grows into the holes in the mesh, which theoretically builds a stronger support system for pelvic organs. Because tissue grows around the mesh, removal is extremely difficult.

Mesh erosion is one of the complications with vaginal mesh surgery. The polypropylene can wear down or break apart, sometimes even protruding into the vagina. Mesh can also shrink or tighten over time. These are some of the complications experienced by women who had vaginal mesh surgery:

  • Pain during sexual intercourse.
  • Infection.
  • Bleeding from broken or protruding mesh.
  • Urinary retention (inability to completely empty bladder).
  • A second surgery to remove the device.

Because of these serious risks, women should explore all nonsurgical options before scheduling surgery. New devices deliver proven SUI treatment without any downtime and minimal side effects.

ELITONE: The Noninvasive Solution

Vaginal mesh

The FDA recently created a category for devices that deliver incontinence treatment through the skin, without vaginal insertion.  If you are someone who prefers a non-invasive option, a new device called ELITONE® is a noninvasive option that uses gentle electrical pulses to exercise your pelvic floor muscles during 20-minute sessions. ELITONE does the Kegel exercises for you, but longer and stronger than what you could do no your own.

The discreet device is also thinner than a pad and worn under your clothes, so you can stay busy while receiving treatment. This convenience makes treatment accessible for busy women who aren’t able to schedule weekly physical therapy appointments. The safety, comfort, and effectiveness of ELITONE make it a much better option for SUI than vaginal mesh implants.

Incontinence can slow you down, but there are real solutions for treatment options beyond surgery. Before your incontinence gets too severe, research your options and work together with your clinician to choose the solution that’s best for you.