Despite popular belief, urinary incontinence, or the loss of bladder control, is not an inevitable part of aging. For women, it’s caused by a specific set of factors that include childbirth, a hysterectomy and other circumstances that weaken pelvic muscles and ligaments. Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI), the most common form of incontinence in women, is caused by pressure (stress) being put on the bladder from physical activity or movement.
While women often try to ignore SUI, it’s a problem that can’t be overlooked or covered up. For some, simple treatments that include medication and exercise are enough. For others, however, surgery is the only option. Often, doctors recommend bladder slings.
Types of Slings for Bladder Control
While bladder slings have long been the most common way to fix SUI, the way in which the procedure is being completed has come under question. Overall, a bladder sling is a long piece of surgical mesh that is that is inserted vaginally to support the bladder neck and urethra, the two-inch tube used to expel urine. This creates a hammock, of sorts, that puts the urethra into its correct position. There are several different types of slings:
- Tension-free transvaginal tape (TVT) — This procedure uses a flexible plastic mesh to reposition the urethra. The tape is held in place by the patient’s body. The synthetic mesh used in this procedure is known to cause severe complications, including organ perforation, infection and uncontrollable bleeding. One of the more common and controversial brands includes the Gynecare TVT made by Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon division.
- Trans-obturator tape (TOT) — Also used to support the urethra and stop SUI, TOT products became popular because they eliminated the need for passing a needle through the area of loose connective tissue between the bladder and the pubic bone. Again made from synthetic materials, TOT holds the same risks as TVT. Both TOT and TVT are usually inserted through one vaginal incision and two small abdominal incisions. One of the most notorious of TOT products is Mentor Corp.’s ObTape, which was found to cause serious complications including urinary tract erosion. After only three years on the market, Mentor pulled the tape from the market, but not before more than 35,000 women had been implanted with it.
- Mini-sling — This type of sling was intended to improve on the previous sling procedures by eliminating the need for surgical abdominal incisions. The procedure was done completely transvaginally, or through the vagina. However, medical evidence shows mini-slings pose the same problems as the other devices, which include mesh erosion, internal injuries and increased pain. Johnson & Johnson’s subsidiary Ethicon made the first mini-sling marketed in the United States, but the company later announced it would stop selling many of its sling devices. In July 2012, the company removed the Gynecare TVT-Secur mini-sling system along with other transvaginal devices from the market following hundreds of product-liability lawsuits.
Risky Surgery and Severe Complications
No matter what type of bladder sling is chosen to fix an SUI problem, the surgical complications can be devastating. Many women report a cascade of medical problems, including severe pain immediately after SUI bladder-sling surgery. This is caused by the mesh eroding into nearby tissue and organs or the mesh shrinking and contracting. Slings can also cause organ perforation, inflammation and infection.
Women who undergo surgery to remove a damaged or painful sling face another set of risks. Because the synthetic material is known to crumble, taking it out is a nearly impossible task. Some women have reported having up to seven surgeries to remove the eroded mesh and still not having complete success.
Today, women by the thousands have filed for legal justice in courtrooms across America. Contact our patient advocates to learn about your medical and legal options.