A hernia can cause pain and interfere with your daily activities. This is why your doctor may suggest surgery to repair it.

Collectively, surgeons in the U.S. perform about a million hernia repairs a year. Even though hernia surgery is common, you might still have questions. Specifically, you may be wondering about something you’ve read about in the news: hernia mesh.

Is hernia mesh surgery safe, you wonder? What are hernia mesh complications? Or even more basic: what is hernia mesh anyway?

We’ve got answers for you.

What Is Hernia Mesh?

Hernia mesh is surgical mesh. It’s a medical device that looks and feels as it sounds — like a kind of material. Surgeons use this mesh to help to provide extra support when repairing a hernia.

Here’s how it works: A hernia happens when weakness in the muscle wall causes tissue or part of an organ to push through. Mesh helps strengthen that weakened muscle wall so it doesn’t happen again.

There are two categories of mesh that surgeons use for hernia repair:

  • Synthetic: Synthetic surgical mesh is human-made.
  • Animal-derived: This is a type of mesh made from animal tissue, usually from a pig or a cow. It’s cleaned and carefully prepared first so that a surgeon can safely use it.

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What Are Hernia Mesh Complications?

What can go wrong with surgical mesh used for hernia repair?

First, it’s important to understand that all surgeries have risks, with or without mesh. Hernias always have the risk of recurrence. Other complications include pain, infection, bleeding, and surrounding organs becoming injured, blocked, or abnormally connected.

Surgical mesh can have its own set of complications. These include pain, hernia recurrence, infection, and the mesh moving or shrinking. There are also potential complications with the bowel.

However, according to the FDA, many of the complications patients and doctors have reported are due to recalled mesh products. These types of hernia mesh are no longer on the market. For example, a type of counterfeit surgical mesh was recalled in 2010.

Hernia Mesh and Risk for Bowel Perforation and Bowel Obstruction

Two complications in particular, bowel perforation and bowel obstruction, are linked to the recalled mesh.

A bowel obstruction can be dangerous. It means that the food you eat can’t pass normally through your bowel. Sometimes it requires surgery.

A perforated bowel means that there is a hole in the wall of your bowel. Because this allows bacteria from waste products to seep in your bowel, it can be a life-threatening emergency.

These are frightening situations and serious complications. But it’s important to remember that the majority of hernia surgeries today use surgical mesh. And most of the time, there are no complications from the mesh.

That said, there have been thousands of lawsuits brought against various makers of surgical mesh. Many are ongoing.

If you are wondering if the manufacturer has recalled the mesh used in your hernia repair, you can search the FDA’s database. If you’re not sure of the mesh name, contact your surgeon or the hospital where you had your surgery.

You should always report any complications of hernia surgery to your doctor right away.

And if you’re wondering if you need surgery to repair your hernia, ask the experts at the Comprehensive Hernia Center.

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.