What Is Surgical Mesh?

Updated on January 16, 2018
k@ri profile image

Kari has been a registered nurse for almost 25 years. She has worked mainly in the operating room.

What Is Surgical Mesh?

Surgical mesh is a flexible sheet made of plastic or organic materials. Many meshes have a medium-fine weave that encourages tissues to grow into it while others are solid sheets. It is used to reinforce and repair weak tissue due to surgery, pregnancy, childbirth, and even exercise. Most hernia repairs use mesh.

What Is Mesh Made Of?

  • Polypropylene is a plastic-like substance that is woven to make mesh. Polypropylene has many applications, including everyday items. The lid of a Tic Tac container is made of this substance. You may have sat on chairs made of it. In surgery it is commonly used as mesh. Many different hernia repairs can be accomplished using this plastic mesh. It is a soft, supple material that is not absorbed by the body.
  • Polyglycolic acid and polycaprolactone are two more plastic-type materials used to make surgical mesh. These materials are also made into sutures (the needle and thread surgeons use). Mesh made of these materials can be absorbed by the body.
  • Organic materials, most usually porcine (pig) or bovine (cow), are also made into surgical mesh. The tissues used are processed to make them safe for human bodies. Mesh made of organic materials is absorbable. Over time the body will break it down and absorb it.
  • Composite mesh is made of organic and inorganic materials used together. It is both absorbable and nonabsorbable by the body.

Surgical mesh comes in different shapes, sizes, and weaves.
Surgical mesh comes in different shapes, sizes, and weaves.

Use for Hernia Repairs

Surgical mesh has many applications. Hernias of all types are repaired using mesh. The ones used for hernia repairs may be nonabsorbable, absorbable, or a composite. There are many different types of hernias:

  • Inguinal: groin area, lump that comes and goes
  • Femoral: upper thigh to groin, lump that comes and goes
  • Incisional: the site of a surgical incision, lump that comes and goes
  • Ventral: somewhere on the abdomen, may be many, small to larger lumps that come and go
  • Umbilical: belly button, turns innies to outies
  • Hiatal: Inside the abdomen, causes heartburn

Hernias may cause pain at the site. Hernias usually have lumps that come and go. These lumps are the bowels pushing their way out of the abdominal cavity. The problem is part of the bowel can get trapped outside of the abdominal cavity. Nothing can flow through the trapped part. This problem requires emergency surgery.

Surgical Mesh Can Repair Hiatal Hernias

Hiatal hernias are different. This type occurs when the stomach bulges through the diaphragm into the chest cavity. Mesh may be used to reinforce the opening in the diaphragm so the stomach can no longer bulge through.

Use for Pelvic Floor Repair

Stress urinary incontinence caused by pelvic organ prolapse can be repaired using surgical mesh. This repair is to strengthen muscles that have grown weaker due to pregnancy, childbirth, or aging. The mesh used for this repair will be non-absorbable.

Surgical mesh can be seen during x-rays.
Surgical mesh can be seen during x-rays.

What Are the Risks of Using Surgical Mesh?

  • Foreign body reaction causes inflammation and slow healing to occur. This inflammation can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term). Occasionally, the mesh will need to be removed surgically.
  • Seroma formation is another risk of using mesh. A seroma is an area that becomes filled with a yellowish-clear fluid, much like the fluid from a blister. This may or may not resolve itself naturally. Usually, the body will reabsorb the seroma fluid.
  • Any foreign body can increase the risk of infection. Surgical mesh is no exception. At times bacteria can grow at the site of the mesh, causing infection with its associated inflammation and pain.
  • Surgical mesh can also cause adhesions. This happens when tissues stick to the mesh or other tissues. Adhesions are usually painless. When pain occurs there is a problem. Adhesions to mesh most commonly occurs in the abdominal cavity. Parts of the bowel may stick to the mesh, or they may stick to each other. Sometimes adhesions may cause a bowel obstruction. This requires surgery to fix.
  • Mesh rarely causes a fistula to form. A fistula is an abnormal passage way between two organs or blood vessels. The most common type of fistula is man made. This is the fistula between an artery and a vein used for dialysis. Fistulas require surgery to fix.

Abdominal mesh should not be used in patients who may experience growth. Children, women who may become pregnant, and infants may encounter problems due to the mesh not being able to stretch.

Animation Showing Umbilical Hernia Repair With Mesh

Regarding the Video

In the video above you will notice the mesh was woven on one side and solid and shiny on the other. The one side is woven to encourage tissue growth into it. The other side is solid so that tissue will not grow into it. Whenever mesh is placed within the abdominal cavity it will have one side that is non-stick to prevent the bowel from sticking and causing an adhesion or fistula.

What Can You Do After Surgery to Help Healing

  • It is important to follow your doctor's instructions regarding activity. If you resume activities too soon you may pull the repair apart. This will require having it redone in another surgery.
  • Do not strain or stress the area of mesh repair. Your surgeon will tell you how long your restrictions will be. For one thing, you cannot lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk. If you have a desk job you will usually be able to return to work within a week. However, if your job requires lifting heavy objects, it may be six weeks before you can go back to work. Always check with your surgeon before doing anything strenuous.
  • Walking is a good form of exercise to perform while you are healing. Walking speeds the healing process by increasing blood circulation. Your blood is responsible for bringing the healing cells and taking away the waste.
  • Strenuous exercises such as weight lifting cannot be done for up to six weeks. Again, your surgeon will tell you when it is safe for you to resume this regular activity.
  • If you have children, sit down and let them climb into your lap. You do not want to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds. Children do not understand your inability to lift them, but spending time with them in your lap helps them to feel loved.
  • Do not drive until your surgeon says you can. Various hernia repairs can interfere with driving. You will not be able to abruptly use the brakes without disrupting the repair.

Should I Agree To Surgical Mesh?

Having surgical mesh implanted does carry some risk. However, these problems do not occur very often. Many, many people have mesh implanted and very few experience a problem. Your surgeon can tell you how often these risks happen. I, personally, would agree to using surgical mesh. Remember though, we are all different. Always ask your surgeon any specific questions you have. Your surgeon will know what is best for you based on your health history.

Questions & Answers

  • Is it safe to perform surgery with surgical mesh installed?

    Yes, but be sure to alert the surgeon to any mesh and its location.

© 2017 Kari Poulsen


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    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      6 months ago from Ohio

      Thank you, Umesh Chandra Bhatt.

    • bhattuc profile image

      Umesh Chandra Bhatt 

      6 months ago from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India

      Very informative and well illustrated. Worth sharing with friends having hernia symptoms and problems.

      Thanks for posting.

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      FlourishAnyway, I guess it would be possible to have mesh put in without knowing in advance. I have never seen it happen, but anything is possible. I think the patient should have some say as to the type of mesh used. This is something they must discuss with their surgeon. Every body is different and has differing needs. Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      2 years ago from USA

      Would there be occasions for using this when the patient didn’t know in advance they were getting it? Wondering too whether the patient has any say regarding the type of mesh used? This was very educational and provided good, useful information. It’s one of those things that you never know when having read this article is going to help you!

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks, Nikki, for reading and commenting! I'm glad it was informative. :)

    • nikkikhan10 profile image

      Nikki Khan 

      2 years ago from London

      Thanks Kari,,very informative article,didn't know about surgical mesh before.It gave me more knowledge of hernia and its procedure.Thanks for sharing.

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      Eric, Thank you, that really makes me feel good! There is a fine line between explaining and making people feel "talked down to". I am so glad to hear that I made it!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Kari this is really well done. I appreciate writers like you that can explain logically a complicated technical subject. And I did not feel "talked down to". Thank you

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      Jo, Thank you very much! I guess I'm going with the nursing/medical niche. It is what I know most about and it seems to be popular. :)

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      Thank you, Linda! I'll be doing more of these articles, I just need to think of things people want to know about, lol. :)

    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 

      2 years ago from Tennessee

      Well done, Kari. We can all get some good medical information if we follow your articles. Thanks for sharing.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is another very educational article. Thank you for sharing all the information, Kari.

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      Thank you, Dora! It is meant to inform, so I guess I did well. I really appreciate you taking time to read and comment!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      2 years ago from The Caribbean

      I feel like I just attended a class of surgical mesh. Your article is very informative and helpful. Thanks for making us aware of things we don't even think of, but should.

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      Hi Nell, thanks for reading and commenting! The first video is graphic, but the second one is animated. Maybe I should change the order. Did you try the second, after not being able to watch the first?

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      2 years ago from England

      Another detailed explanation of something I had heard of but not exactly sure what it was used for. I tried to watch the video, but gave up as slightly squeamish! lol! great stuff!

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      S Maree, Thank you so very much! Your kind comments make my day. It's always good to hear your article is better than others. :)

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      Jackie, I'm glad I could help. At times, people need a permanent reinforcement, that is where the plastic one comes in. Thanks for reading and commenting. :)

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      Rochelle, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think most of those law suits pertain to the pelvic floor repairs. I don't watch much TV, so maybe not.

    • k@ri profile imageAUTHOR

      Kari Poulsen 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      Thank you Louise! I'm glad it was useful to you. :)

    • profile image

      S Maree 

      2 years ago

      Both Hubby & I have mesh implants for belly button hernias. This is the best info I've found yet! I was JUST trying to search online for info less than a week ago!

      This is a KEEPER! THANK YOU!!!!!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      2 years ago from the beautiful south

      You have answered a big question for me. I have wondered just what this was and what it was used for and now I know. What I have heard is lawyers trying to find out if I have it and want to sue, (ads) but you make it sound safe enough.

      I do wonder why they would use plastic though instead of a material that might further benefit our bodies being absorbed into the system but I guess they know much more than I do.

      Very interesting writing.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 

      2 years ago from California Gold Country

      A very informative and clear presentation of the subject. It seems like lately there have been a lot of TV ads for class action lawsuits related to surgical mesh implants. I'm sure a lot of people facing surgery might have questions.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      I've had 2 hernia operations and they fixed my hernia's with surgical mesh. So reading your article has proved very helpful. Thankyou. =)


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