Women with pelvic mesh implants report painful, intractable infections
Canadian women say their quality of life has been destroyed by painful and seemingly intractable bacterial infections caused by pelvic mesh implants used to treat incontinence.
The news comes as some U.S. states are suing a major mesh manufacturer, alleging that thousands of women face complications, including a risk of chronic infection, sometimes years after surgery.
There are thousands of lawsuits underway around the world.
Chrissy Brajcic, 40, of Windsor, Ont., says she lies in bed all day “in agony” due to the nausea, vomiting and pain she still has more than a year after the removal of a polypropelene mesh implant.
Doctors had recommended the mesh to stop incontinence following childbirth. It left her feeling like she had “barbed wire” in her abdomen, she said. The pain was so bad she couldn’t continue her work as an interior decorator and had difficulty walking.
After the mesh was removed in February 2015, the pain continued and the intractable urinary tract infections began. “It feels like I’m dying from the inside and I’ve lost all sense of normalcy in my life,” she said.
Brajcic’s infections don’t appear to be responding to a growing list of antibiotics. She says each subsequent infection is worse than the one before.
“The future is very uncertain,” according to Brajcic. “We don’t know if anyone is able to kill these infections at this point because nothing has worked in the past year.”
“I’m in a terrifying place,” she added.
Brajcic said her goal is to get all pelvic mesh off the market until further studies are done.
Diane Fichter, a B.C. woman among dozens who approached CTV News in 2012 to discuss painful complications, says doctors have run out of antibiotics to treat her latest infection, which began last September.
Fichter’s implants were put in place for incontinence and organ prolapse seven years ago and, like Brajcic, she suffered so much pain that she had most of the mesh removed.
“Physically it’s extremely hard,” she said. “Emotionally, it’s extremely hard.”
The intravenous antibiotics Fichter has taken have caused anaphylactic shock, along with extreme nausea and vomiting, so she is afraid to take any more.
Fichter encourages women considering mesh implants to educate themselves. One website, Mesh Problems, lists some of the research and women’s stories.
Earlier this year, the U.S. FDA reclassified pelvic mesh to repair pelvic organ prolapse from the moderate-risk category to the high-risk category of devices. Mesh devices for stress incontinence were not reclassified.
“The orders will require manufacturers to address safety concerns, including severe pelvic pain and organ perforation,” the FDA said at the time.
Dr. Blayne Welk, a urologist and assistant professor of surgery at Western University in London, Ont., performs mesh removals several times a month at St Joseph’s Heath Care London.
He has conducted studies showing that about five per cent of women in Ontario have the implants removed due to complications. Other studies have found much higher rates of complications, up to 30 per cent.
Dr. Welk says the recurrent bladder and kidney infections in a “fairly small group” of patients are a concern, but he doesn’t think the mesh should be removed from the market.
“It’s a tool that should be used for the right patients,” he said.
Doctors are trying to figure out why a subset of women, such as Brajcic, are suffering from chronic infections even after the mesh is removed.
Dr. Welk points to research that suggests the mesh may sometimes be “be colonized with bacteria at the time of implantation” that leads to chronic inflammation.
“Those women should be followed by surgeons for a couple of years afterward to ensure they don’t develop complications,” he said, “… and to be able to treat and intervene in a timely manner if they do.”
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip