What is a bladder sling?
A bladder sling is a strip of surgical mesh used to treat stress urinary innocence in women.
There are some more conservative treatments used to treat stress incontinence, but if a patient does not respond to those treatments, their doctor may recommend that they undergo surgery to have a bladder sling implanted into their body.
Surgeons use a material, sometimes a transvaginal mesh, a piece of the patient’s tissue, or a piece of animal tissue to create a sling that effectively works like a hammock to provide supplementary support for the urethra and bladder. This additional support works to keep the urethra closed, preventing leaks, otherwise known as stress incontinence.
What are the risks associated with having a bladder sling surgery?
Mayo Clinic notes that urinary incontinence surgery is invasive, so it comes with a higher risk of complications than a lower-risk treatment. However, bladder sling surgery can provide a long-term solution to a directive problem in severe cases.
If you are a patient who may want to have children or have more children, your doctor may recommend that you wait to have the surgery until after you are finished having children. Mayo Clinic notes that the strain that pregnancy and delivery put on your bladder, urethra, and surrounding tissues might disrupt a bladder sling surgery and may negate the benefits of the surgery.
What are the side effects of a bladder sling?
Beyond risks for infection during surgery and additional stress caused by pregnancy and delivery, having bladder sling surgery can come with bladder sling side effects.
Mayo Clinic notes that patients who have had bladder slings implanted may experience side effects including:
- temporary difficulty urinating
- temporary incomplete bladder emptying (urinary retention)
- development of an overactive bladder
- urinary tract infection
- difficult or painful intercourse
- mesh erosion into the vagina
- injury to organs; including perforation to bladder, bowels and blood vessels
- vaginal scarring
Can Bladder Slings Be Removed?
If women start to experience complications from their transvaginal mesh products, they may be able to have the mesh removed.
According to the University of Colorado, transvaginal mesh is intended to be a permanent implant and is often difficult to remove. After implanting the mesh, the body heals by growing tissue into and around the implant. This can reportedly make it difficult to remove the mesh entirely without damaging a woman’s pelvic organs or tissue.
Mesh erosion is reportedly one of the most common complications associated with bladder slings, but may be treated with removal. If the erosion is minor, the procedure may be able to conducted in an out-patient setting. However, if mesh exposure is more than 5 mm, a full operation may be required.
Unfortunately, it may take more than one surgery to remove the mesh. As mentioned above, bladder slings may become integrated with pelvic tissue which can make it difficult to remove. The type of surgical approach used to implant the mesh is also important as this can dictate what parts of the mesh can be removed effectively.
Although mesh removal can help women when they are experiencing bladder sling complications, there are always risks associated with the procedure or surgery. Due to these risks, doctors may instead advocate for a observational approach unless severe complications occur such as infection, fistula, or chronic pain.
Additionally, having bladder slings surgically removed can result in hefty medical bills for surgery, hospitalization, recovery, and other treatments.
Are bladder slings safe?
The side effects of a bladder sling may make patients wonder if the devices are safe.
According to University of Michigan Health, pelvic mesh, also known as transvaginal mesh, has come under scrutiny. As pelvic mesh is a common material used in bladder sling construction, patients may worry that this common surgical material may come with more risks than benefits for patients seeking solutions to stress incontinence.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has subjected pelvic mesh to more scrutiny since numerous patients have reported significant complications with the device.
Reportedly, thousands of patients have filed lawsuits against makers of pelvic mesh, saying that the pelvic mesh used in surgeries like bladder sling surgeries cased pain, bleeding, infection, and other serious complications.
Michigan Health goes on to say that mesh used in surgeries designed to fix urinary incontinence are among the lowest-risk mesh surgeries. However, patients should still be aware of possible risks and side effects of a bladder sling when considering incontinence treatment options.
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