Oligosymptomatic vs. symptomatic incisional hernias--who benefits from open repair?

Langenbecks Arch Surg. 2011 Feb;396(2):179-85. doi: 10.1007/s00423-010-0659-5. Epub 2010 Jun 28.


Introduction: Incisional hernias are one of the most often complications in abdominal surgery and therefore present a significant surgical and socioeconomic problem. To date, incisional hernias are always an indication for surgery, regardless of the patient's symptoms. However, it remains unclear to what extent the surgery actually results in symptomatic improvement and whether a relevant risk of incarceration exists. The purpose of this study was to investigate the motivation that led to incisional hernia repairs and whether patients benefit from surgery with regard to pain and subjective criteria.

Materials and methods: This prospective study included patients who underwent open abdominal incisional hernia repair using mesh implantation. Data collection was done preoperatively and 6 months postoperatively. The intensity of pain was evaluated using the Numeric Analog Scale (NAS). Patients were divided according to their preoperative level of pain into oligosymptomatic (NAS 0-3) and symptomatic (NAS 4-10) groups, and the postoperative outcome of both groups was compared.

Results: Ninety patients were prospectively enrolled: 45 males (50.0%) and 45 females (50.0%); 43 patients (47.8%) were oligosymptomatic preoperatively, while 47 patients (52.2%) reported relevant pain. The most frequent motivation for surgery named by the oligosymptomatic patients was fear of incarceration (79.1%), while the symptomatic patients mostly mentioned pain (76.6%). At 6 months postoperatively, significantly more oligosymptomatic patients complained of relevant pain (p < 0.001). In the symptomatic patient group, there was a significant reduction in relevant pain (p < 0.001). At that time, the level of relevant pain was comparable in both groups (33.3% versus 35.6%). Seven of 87 patients (8.0%) experienced recurrence within 6 months. Three patients with acute incarceration were treated with emergency repair (3.2%).

Conclusions: In patients with oligosymptomatic incisional hernias, fear of incarceration is the most frequent motivation for surgical treatment, even though the actual risk of incarceration seems to be rather low. If the incisional hernia causes relevant discomfort preoperatively, the surgery provides significant relief. In contrast, there is no improvement regarding pain in the oligosymptomatic patient group. This leads to the conclusion that, in the case of oligosymptomatic incisional hernias, the general indication for surgical revision should be viewed critically.

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / etiology
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Hernia, Ventral / complications
  • Hernia, Ventral / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Prosthesis Implantation
  • Surgical Mesh*
  • Treatment Outcome