A rheumatologist from the University of Alberta in Canada has found that high reports of autoimmune disorder symptoms in patients could be due to surgical mesh implants, often used for hernia or gynaecological repair.

University of Alberta director of the division of rheumatology Dr Jan Willem Cohen Tervaert said: “In my practice, I studied 40 patients who had mesh implants and found that almost all of them had symptoms such as chronic fatigue, cognitive impairment known as brain fog, muscle and joint pain (fibromyalgia), feverish temperature, and dry eyes and dry mouth.

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“Of those patients, 45% developed an autoimmune disorder such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. And in the patients who had allergies before the implant, they were significantly worse after.”

Cohen Tervaert presented the study results at the 11th International Conference on Autoimmunity in Lisbon and will soon publish them in an academic journal.

He added: “My study is small, however, it is beyond coincidence that these symptoms, which often go untreated or even unacknowledged by some doctors, exist among so many mesh implant patients. A larger study is needed to confirm whether in fact the implanted mesh is to blame.”

The rheumatologist has also theorised that the causal link between the surgical mesh implants and autoimmune disorders could be the same one found to be true in silicone breast implant disease.

Despite highlighting the potential risks, Cohen Tervaert said patients who currently have mesh implants should not panic.

He said: “Many patients do not develop symptoms or a disease. You must have the genes in the first place.”

Concerned patients are advised to discuss the risks of any existing or future surgical mesh implants with their physicians. One indication of whether or not a patient could develop an autoimmune disorder from implants is whether they have any pre-existing allergies.

Cohen Tervaert has stressed that there is hope for patients with mesh implants who do have autoimmune symptoms after the mesh is removed.

He said: “Patients who have had symptoms associated with breast implants felt much better after the implants were removed, and in some cases, they reported a total cure.”