Bad News for Surgical Mesh and a Drug Infusion Device

A couple of implantable devices recently received new scrutiny with negative results.

Medtronic issued a “medical device correction” about possible diminished battery life of its infusion pump, the SynchroMed II. The device is surgically implanted to deliver painkilling medication.

According to About Lawsuits.com, of 140,000 implants worldwide, 55 were reported to have reduced battery performance. Designed to last 84 months, some batteries failed as early as 48 months. Medtronic issued a caution about the problem in July 2009, and an update earlier this month. And in February, certain models of the SynchroMed infusion pump were recalled thanks to a defective design that could result in an overdose during refill.

Pump failure can result in the return of pain, can cause patients to experience drug withdrawal and, for patients with multiple sclerosis who receive the drug baclofen, can be life-threatening.

The SynchroMed II is not being recalled, nor is it recommended that it be removed. Patients who have the device and whose symptoms reappear, or who hear a device alarm should contact their doctors immediately. For additional information, call Medtronic Patient Services, (800) 510-6735.

For women with pelvic organ prolapse, in which urinary and/or sexual organs droop or slip out of place, surgery is sometimes indicated. The FDA warns that if surgical mesh, rather than stitches, is implanted to strengthen the vagina, the risk of complications including tissue erosion, pain, infection, bleeding and urinary problems is greater. (Sometimes the mesh is implanted through the abdomen, which is not subject to the advisory.)

According to MedPage Today, “the number of adverse events linked to the device has been increasing in recent years.” Between 2008 and 2010, five times as many such events were reported than between 2005 and 2007.

“The FDA is asking surgeons to carefully consider all other treatment options and to make sure that their patients are fully informed of potential complications from surgical mesh,” William Maisel, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director of FDA’s center for devices and radiological health, said in a statement. “Mesh is a permanent implant–complete removal may not be possible and may not result in complete resolution of complications.”

Although the mesh often corrects the anatomical issue, after reviewing reports for a 14-year period of use, the FDA concluded that the greater risk was not accompanied by greater clinical benefit than nonmesh surgery. Its advisory was issued in advance of a committee meeting in September to examine the safety and effectiveness of surgical mesh for the treatment.

As quoted by the McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families, said an advisory wasn’t strong enough. “The troublesome issue is how is that going to affect what actually happens to patients as long as this product is still on the market and widely available.”

If your doctor has advised surgery to correct pelvic organ prolapse, be sure to discuss the implications of both mesh and stitches.

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