The prolapse occurs because of a loss of the muscle and connective tissue support for the organs in the pelvis. Common causes are thought to include vaginal childbirth, older age, chronic constipation, chronic cough, or chronic steroid use. The goal of treating pelvic prolapse is to alleviate symptoms and try to regain normal function of the affected organs. Treatment for pelvic prolapse can include non-surgical treatment - including a pessary - or different styles of surgical treatment.
Traditional repairs have involved the use of sutures and the patient's own connective tissue. However, studies have indicated that some patients' connective tissues may not be strong enough to give an adequate repair. In response to this, attempts have been made to develop materials to reinforce the weakened connective tissue. Most recently, synthetic materials have been utilized to create a netting or "sling" (other terms include mesh or graft). The netting is placed through the vagina to support the surrounding organs. The advantage of these materials is that they are much stronger than the surrounding connective tissue.
However, there is no perfect mesh netting. Early short term studies have shown that using a "mesh sling" may result in fewer re-occurrences of the prolapse as compared to traditional repair with sutures. However, there are no conclusive studies to show the superiority of these materials nor are there long-term studies to show how repair holds up over time.
Also, complications with the materials can occur including infection, pain, or erosion of the mesh into the surrounding organs, requiring additional surgery to remove the sling. These revision surgeries are more challenging than the initial procedure of placing the netting. In fact, concern regarding the complications that can occur with the materials caused the FDA put out a warning regarding their use.
I believe that these materials can play a helpful role in pelvic prolapse repair in a select population of patients. However, the patient must be carefully counseled on the risks, benefits and alternatives. In addition, the patient should make sure the surgeon has experience with the sling procedure and knows how to deal with potential complications.