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Hernia Mesh FAQ

It is normal to have a lot of questions when facing hernia mesh surgery. People want to know how it may affect their lives. But there are also important health questions they should ask their doctors before and after surgery.

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It can take a year or two before people realize they have a hernia. By that time, it may need surgery. Patients may suddenly have questions they never considered.

People may wonder how surgery and recovery will affect their routines. People may also want to know how it will affect them in the long-term. Most hernia repairs rely on mesh. These are some of the most frequently asked questions about hernia mesh.

How Does Hernia Mesh Work?

Hernia mesh reinforces tissue around the hernia. Doctors attach it with sutures, staples or tacks. Over time, tissue grows into the mesh’s pores. This strengthens the repair.

Is the Mesh Used for Hernia Repair Safe?

The FDA considers hernia mesh safe. Surgeons have used hernia mesh in millions of surgeries since the 1950s. But in rare cases, hernia mesh can cause serious complications.

Since the 1990s, about nine in 10 hernia surgeries have involved mesh. Studies showed it prevents hernias from coming back. But a 2016 study showed complications can offset mesh benefits.

Manufacturers make most hernia mesh from synthetic materials or animal tissue. Manufacturers sometimes coat hernia mesh with different materials. Coatings can help the body absorb or grow into the mesh. In rare cases, people can experience reactions to these materials. They may need surgery to remove the mesh.

Polypropylene is the most common synthetic hernia mesh material. It is a flexible plastic that can bend but return to its original shape. But it can stick to internal organs. And polypropylene mesh is stiff enough to sometimes puncture organs.

The FDA says mesh may not be the right choice for all patients. The agency urges people to talk with their surgeons about their individual circumstances.

What Are the Most Common Complications of Hernia Mesh?

The five most common complications of hernia mesh surgery are:
  • Pain
  • Infection
  • Recurrence (the hernia returning)
  • Adhesion (the mesh gets stuck to an internal organ)
  • Bowel obstruction

All of these may need another surgery to correct.

How Long After Hernia Mesh Surgery Can Complications Happen?

Complications can occur immediately after surgery or may take years to show up.

Studies have shown complications can occur years after surgery. There is little research, however, looking at complications past five years after surgery.

Will I Be Able to Drive After Hernia Mesh Surgery?

Hernia mesh patients must have someone available to drive them home from surgery. Patients remain impaired from anesthesia for a day or more. Patients should not drive during this time.

Most patients are usually able to drive within a few days after surgery. Patients should not drive if taking opiates or other painkillers.

The type of vehicle may affect the ability to drive. Sitting or getting in and out of the vehicle may cause pain or other problems until the wound heals.

Is It Possible to Play Sports After Hernia Mesh Surgery?

Patients should avoid lifting anything over ten pounds for six to eight weeks. They should avoid any strenuous exercise during that time. Doctors encourage limited exercise — especially walking — as soon as possible.

Patients should be able to return to all athletic activities in a matter of weeks. This includes running and contact sports. Performance should return to pre-surgery levels within days to weeks of resuming activities.

People may feel tugging, burning or other discomfort for months. These should diminish over time.

Patients should ask their doctor when it is safe to resume sports.

Does Hernia Mesh Surgery Affect Sexual Activity?

A 2016 study of hernia mesh patients looked at sex after surgery. They found that the quality of their sex lives improved compared to before surgery. Patients may be able to engage in sexual activity as soon as they feel no severe pain. But they should ask their doctor when they can resume sexual activity.

Does Hernia Mesh Surgery Affect Pregnancy?

Doctors usually recommend delaying elective hernia repair until after delivery. But women have had laparoscopic hernia mesh surgery during pregnancy without complications. Surgery during pregnancy requires fetal monitoring. This creates its own risks for both the fetus and woman.

A 2015 study reviewed 31 published papers. The researchers suggested performing hernia repair in conjunction with a C-section. They said it appeared to be the best option for pregnant patients.

Will Hernia Mesh Affect Future MRIs and X-rays?

Different meshes affect imaging techniques in different ways. Some mesh types may be invisible to certain devices. But others will always show up in any kind of imaging. Still other mesh may fall anywhere between those extremes. Patients should ask their surgeon how their particular mesh interacts with imaging devices.

What Questions Should I Ask My Doctor Before Hernia Mesh Surgery?

It is important to follow a doctor’s instructions before and after hernia mesh surgery. This can help prevent complications and speed recovery.

A doctor can also explain risks and benefits of hernia mesh surgery. But most people may not know what questions they should ask their doctor. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers a list of questions to ask your doctor before hernia surgery.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers a list of questions to ask your doctor before hernia surgery. These include:
  • Can the doctor perform hernia repair without using mesh?
  • What are the risks and benefits of using mesh?
  • What has been your experience with this type of hernia mesh?
  • What experiences have your other patients had with it?
  • What is the rate of hernia recurrence you have seen with this mesh?
  • How often have you seen complications with this mesh?
  • How do complications and recurrence compare to a non-mesh repair?
  • What is the name of the mesh?
  • What is it made of?
  • What happens if the mesh fails to correct the problem?
  • What experience does the doctor have dealing with complications from the mesh?
  • What will happen if there are complications?
  • What are the consequences of any complications?

Hernia mesh comes with patient information. The FDA recommends that patients ask their surgeon for a copy of the patient information that comes with the mesh used in their surgery. Patients should read this information and keep it handy after surgery.

What Should I Ask My Doctor After Hernia Mesh Surgery?

Follow up care is important after hernia mesh surgery. It can speed recovery and prevent complications.

Questions to ask a doctor following hernia mesh surgery include:
  • How should I care for my incision?
  • When should I see you for follow-up care?
  • What signs or symptoms should I look out for?
  • When should I call you if I notice a sign or symptom?
  • When will I be able to return to my normal activities?
  • When can I return to work?
  • When can I resume exercise?

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.

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9 Cited Research Articles

  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2017, December 28). Hernia Surgical Mesh Implants: Information for Patients. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/medicaldevices/productsandmedicalprocedures/implantsandprosthetics/herniasurgicalmesh/ucm317438.htm#top
  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018, February 4). Hernia Surgical Mesh Implants. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/MedicalDevices/ProductsandMedicalProcedures/ImplantsandProsthetics/HerniaSurgicalMesh/default.htm
  3. Sonmez, M.G. et al. (2016, June 20). Does Inguinal Hernia Repair have an Effect on Sexual Functions? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4986302/
  4. Amid, P.K. (2000, October 28). Driving After Repair of Groin Hernia. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1118834/
  5. Wai, P.Y. (2009, October). Laparoscopic Ventral Hernia Repair during Pregnancy. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19280274
  6. Jensen, K.K., Henriksen, N.A. & Jorgensen, L.N. (2015, October). Abdominal Wall Hernia and Pregnancy: A Systematic Review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25862027
  7. Rakic, S. & LeBlanc K.A. (2013, December). The Radiologic Appearance of Prosthetic Materials Used in Hernia Repair and a Recommended Classification. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24261353
  8. Kokotovic, D., Bisgaard, T., and Helgstrand, F. (2016, October 18). Long-Term Recurrence and Complications Associated with Elective Incisional Hernia Repair. JAMA. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2565771
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