Context: Many men with inguinal hernia have minimal symptoms. Whether deferring surgical repair is a safe and acceptable option has not been assessed. Objective: To compare pain and the physical component score (PCS) of the Short Form-36 Version 2 survey at 2 years in men with minimally symptomatic inguinal hernias treated with watchful waiting or surgical repair. Design, Setting, and Participants: Randomized trial conducted January 1, 1999, through December 31, 2004, at 5 North American centers and enrolling 720 men (364 watchful waiting, 356 surgical repair) followed up for 2 to 4.5 years. Interventions: Watchful-waiting patients were followed up at 6 months and annually and watched for hernia symptoms; repair patients received standard open tensionfree repair and were followed up at 3 and 6 months and annually. Main Outcome Measures: Pain and discomfort interfering with usual activities at 2 years and change in PCS from baseline to 2 years. Secondary outcomes were complications, patient-reported pain, functional status, activity levels, and satisfaction with care. Results: Primary intention-to-treat outcomes were similar at 2 years for watchful waiting vs surgical repair: pain limiting activities (5.1% vs 2.2%, respectively; P=.52); PCS (improvement over baseline, 0.29 points vs 0.13 points; P=.79). Twenty-three percent of patients assigned to watchful waiting crossed over to receive surgical repair (increase in hernia-related pain was the most common reason offered); 17% assigned to receive repair crossed over to watchful waiting. Self-reported pain in watchful-waiting patients crossing over improved after repair. Occurrence of postoperative hernia-related complications was similar in patients who received repair as assigned and in watchful-waiting patients who crossed over. One watchful-waiting patient (0.3%) experienced acute hernia incarceration without strangulation within 2 years; a second had acute incarceration with bowel obstruction at 4 years, with a frequency of 1.8/1000 patient-years inclusive of patients followed up for as long as 4.5 years. Conclusions: Watchful waiting is an acceptable option for men with minimally symptomatic inguinal hernias. Delaying surgical repair until symptoms increase is safe because acute hernia incarcerations occur rarely. Clinical Trials Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT00263250.
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