The use of mesh in hernia repairs is leaving many patients in chronic pain, according to surgeons interviewed by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire program.
Mesh implants are the recommended method for treating hernias by NHS England, which is part of the country’s Department of Health. However, the investigative report found several patients who are reporting pain and complications as a result of mesh implants.
In one interview, the BBC spoke with a surgical recipient who had a hernia repair in 1999. A mesh implant was used to repair their inguinal hernia. This type of hernia occurs when tissue or organ pushes through a weak part of the groin muscle, causing a bulge in the area.
The 39-year-old did not start experiencing pain until 12 years after their initial repair. Their life has changed as a result.
“I used to play all sorts of sports,” the recipient said. “But now the simplest of movements can be seriously painful. It feels like I have been stabbed with something hot.”
Several types of tests were conducted to find the source of their issues, including blood tests and colonoscopies, but nothing came up on the scans. Doctors say it must be the hernia mesh.
“They’ve ruled out everything this could be, other than pursuing the mesh complications,” they said. “There must be thousands of people who are experiencing pain who don’t realize it could be the mesh.
“It might not be to blame, but until it’s investigated, how can we know?”
‘Like Somebody Scratching You Inside Your Body’
As part of the program, the BBC also spoke to Leila Hackett.
Hackett suffered an umbilical hernia after giving birth and had it repaired in 2013. Immediately after getting the mesh implanted, she felt the pain.
“Straightaway I could feel the mesh,” she said. “It was like somebody scratching you from inside your body, it’s so unpleasant and constant.
“It started off like fiery burning agony but it never stopped hurting or itching.”
Mesh is frequently used to repair hernias in the United Kingdom and most other countries. The mesh, which is often made of synthetic materials or animal tissue, works by strengthening the walls surround the hernia to reduce the risk of recurrence.
That’s why her general practitioner told her the hernia was not the source of the issue. Once the issue became too severe, she suffered from bowel obstruction and the mesh material had to be removed from her body for four hours.
“As soon as I came round, I knew the mesh had been removed because I felt normal again,” Hackett said.
One former general surgeon interviewed by the BBC said he has made a career removing mesh from hernia patients and that people aren’t being properly warned about possible chronic pain.
“At least half of patients who have a mesh repair will have a smooth recovery, but in my opinion the risks of a poor outcome are so bad, I wouldn’t want to take that risk,” he said.
“I think litigation will come into this. 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.”
Hundreds Suing Hernia Mesh Makers
In the United States alone, hundreds of cases are currently pending from patients who claim that the makers of hernia mesh did not adequately warn them about possible complications and risks.
Physiomesh, which is made by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon, has been the target of dozens of lawsuits. The most recent lawsuit against Physiomesh was filed by Gary Goodson last month. Goodson said that his complications will require revision surgery and that the defendants sold a defective and dangerous product.
His case is identical to many of the cases pending against Physiomesh in federal court. The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation recently agreed to a request to transfer all federal Physiomesh cases into a single docket because they all involve common questions of fact.
Patients in Canada have also begun filing a class-action lawsuit against the maker of Physiomesh for the unexpected complications.
Hernia Mesh Report Follows Litigation from Vaginal Mesh Patients
The hernia mesh segment on the BBC came out after more than 800 women in the United Kingdom started taking legal action against NHS England and the makers of vaginal mesh for chronic pain and worse.
Vaginal mesh is similar in appearance and function to hernia mesh but is instead used to treat pelvic organ prolapse and incontinence from childbirth.
Ethicon, which is at the center of both vaginal and hernia mesh lawsuits, continues to defend both products.