Introduction: Incisional hernias are among the most frequent complications in visceral surgery and are currently considered to be an indication for surgery in all cases, regardless of the patient's symptoms. However, it still remains unclear to what extent surgery actually results in improvement according to objective (e.g., less pain or dysesthesia) or subjective criteria (e.g., less discomfort or better cosmetic result). The purpose of this prospective study was to identify patients who derive objective and subjective benefit from surgical repair.
Materials and methods: This prospective study included patients who underwent open incisional hernia repair with mesh implantation from December 2006 to April 2009. Data were collected before and 18 months after surgery. Pain intensity was rated on the numerical analog scale (NAS) pre- and postoperatively. Patients were divided into oligosymptomatic (NAS 0-3) and symptomatic (NAS 4-10) groups based on their preoperative pain level, and the postoperative outcome of the two groups was compared by standardized questionnaire.
Results: Ninety patients were prospectively enrolled, 45 (50 %) of each gender. Prior to surgery, 43 patients (47.8 %) were oligosymptomatic, and 47 (52.2 %) reported clinically relevant pain. Eighteen months after surgery, 7.5 % of the oligosymptomatic patients complained of clinically relevant pain; its rate remained unchanged. The symptomatic group showed a significant reduction in clinically relevant pain from 100 % to 14.0 %, (p < 0.001). The percentage of patients with clinically relevant dysesthesia was 12.5 % in the oligosymptomatic and 20.9 % in the symptomatic group 18 months postoperatively. The overall recurrence rate was 13.3 % after 18 months without difference in both groups. A reduction in discomfort in the surgical area was reported by 77.5 % of the oligosymptomatic and 79.1 % of the symptomatic patients.
Conclusions: Symptomatic patients definitely profit from surgical repair in the long-term course. However, the notable postoperative rate of clinically relevant pain and dysesthesia in oligosymptomatic patients and their high recurrence rate cast doubt on whether they really benefit from surgical repair. The remarkable degree of subjective satisfaction in oligosymptomatic patients should not be underestimated.