More than one million hernias are treated each year. As a somewhat common ailment, hernias are caused by either congenital conditions in babies, or poor nutrition, chronic illness, and overexertion in adults.

Hernias may be treated with mesh, a controversial medical device linked to a number of complications. There are various types of hernias and hernia mesh devices, each with unique side effects.

About Hernias + Hernia Mesh

Regardless of the risk factor or cause, all hernias occur when the intestine or other organ is pushed through a weak spot in the muscle wall. An estimated 800,000 hernias are inguinal hernias, which appear as a bulge on either side of the pubic area. Other types of hernias include:

  • Incisional Hernia – Occurs through a previously made incision in the abdominal wall.
  • Femoral Hernia – Also called a femorocele, it appears as a bulge near the groin or thigh. Women are typically more affected by femoral hernias than men.
  • Ventral Hernia – Occurs in the general abdominal/ventral wall.
  • Umbilical Hernia – Occurs at the belly button.
  • Hiatal Hernia – Occurs inside the abdomen, along the upper stomach/diaphragm.

While watchful waiting is an option for those without hernia complications or post-surgery symptoms, one of the most common treatments for a hernia is a surgical mesh implantation.

There has been some success in mesh helping to reinforce weakened muscle walls and form scar tissue. However, both synthetic and biologic mesh come with complications and potentially recurring hernias that require more surgery.

The fault in early mesh designs lays in further surgery for partial bowel removal due to intestines sticking to the mesh implant, resulting in severe abdominal pain, movement restriction, and sepsis infection.

Due to its low cost and wide availability, synthetic mesh surpassed biologic mesh as the most used hernia repair product.

Synthetic vs. Biologic Mesh

Biologic mesh usually consists of tissues from cadavers or animals, providing a collagen-rich setting for natural regeneration of tissue.

By contrast, synthetic mesh is made of plastics like Polypropylene, polyester, and ePTFE, which means they don’t adhere to organs and are not absorbable. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “Non-absorbable mesh will remain in the body indefinitely and is considered a permanent implant. The absorbable mesh will degrade and lose strength over time. […] As the material degrades, new tissue growth is intended to provide strength to the repair.”

The Uncomfortable Truth 

The complications don’t end with hernia mesh. According to the UK publication, The Independent, “More than 800 UK women who received a vaginal mesh implant are already suing the National Health Service for failure to obtain proper consent and inadequate surgical technique.”

Manufacturers are also targeted, like Johnson & Johnson, who have already paid out $57 million in Philadelphia last month to a plaintiff who suffered mesh complications.

“Manufacturers have also been accused of offering grants to bias surgeons and putting pressure on medical bodies to keep the device on the market, despite safety concerns.”