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Management of asymptomatic inguinal hernia: a systematic review of the evidence.

OBJECTIVE: To establish a literature-based surgical approach to asymptomatic inguinal hernia (IH).

DATA SOURCES: PubMed, the Cochrane Library database, Embase, national guidelines (including the National Library of Guidelines Specialist Library), National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines, and the National Research Register were searched for prospective randomized trials comparing surgical treatment of patients with asymptomatic IH with conservative treatment.

STUDY SELECTION: The literature search retrieved 216 article headlines, and these articles were analyzed. Of those studies, a total of 41 articles were found to be relevant and 2 large well-conducted randomized controlled studies that published their results in several articles were reviewed.

DATA EXTRACTION: The pain and discomfort, general health status, complications, and life-threatening events of patients with asymptomatic IH managed by surgery or watchful waiting were determined.

DATA SYNTHESIS: No significant difference in pain scores and general health status were found when comparing the patients who were followed up with the patients who had surgery. A significant crossover ratio ranging between 23% and 72% from watchful waiting to surgery was found. In patients with watchful waiting, the rates of IH strangulation were 0.27% after 2 years of follow-up and 0.55% after 4 years of follow-up. In patients who underwent elective surgery, the range of operative complications was 0% to 22.3% and the recurrence rate was 2.1%.

CONCLUSION: Both treatment options for asymptomatic IH are safe, but most patients will develop symptoms (mainly pain) over time and will require operation.

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