Abstract: Worldwide, more than 20 million patients undergo groin hernia repair annually. The many different approaches, treatment indications and a significant array of techniques for groin hernia repair warrant guidelines to standardize care, minimize complications, and improve results. The main goal of these guidelines is to improve patient outcomes, specifically to decrease recurrence rates and reduce chronic pain, the most frequent problems following groin hernia repair. They have been endorsed by all five continental hernia societies, the International Endo Hernia Society and the European Association for Endoscopic Surgery.
An expert group of international surgeons (the HerniaSurge Group) and one anesthesiologist pain expert was formed. The group consisted of members from all continents with specific experience in hernia-related research. Care was taken to include surgeons who perform different types of repair and had preferably performed research on groin hernia surgery. During the Group's first meeting, evidence-based medicine (EBM) training occurred and 166 key questions (KQ) were formulated. EBM rules were followed in complete literature searches (including a complete search by The Dutch Cochrane database) to January 1, 2015 and to July 1, 2015 for level 1 publications. The articles were scored by teams of two or three according to Oxford, SIGN and Grade methodologies. During five 2-day meetings, results were discussed with the working group members leading to 136 statements and 88 recommendations. Recommendations were graded as "strong" (recommendations) or "weak" (suggestions) and by consensus in some cases upgraded. In the Results and summary section below, the term "should" refers to a recommendation. The AGREE II instrument was used to validate the guidelines. An external review was performed by three international experts. They recommended the guidelines with high scores.
The risk factors for inguinal hernia (IH) include: family history, previous contra-lateral hernia, male gender, age, abnormal collagen metabolism, prostatectomy, and low body mass index. Peri-operative risk factors for recurrence include poor surgical techniques, low surgical volumes, surgical inexperience and local anesthesia. These should be considered when treating IH patients. IH diagnosis can be confirmed by physical examination alone in the vast majority of patients with appropriate signs and symptoms. Rarely, ultrasound is necessary. Less commonly still, a dynamic MRI or CT scan or herniography may be needed. The EHS classification system is suggested to stratify IH patients for tailored treatment, research and audit. Symptomatic groin hernias should be treated surgically. Asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic male IH patients may be managed with "watchful waiting" since their risk of hernia-related emergencies is low. The majority of these individuals will eventually require surgery; therefore, surgical risks and the watchful waiting strategy should be discussed with patients. Surgical treatment should be tailored to the surgeon's expertise, patient- and hernia-related characteristics and local/national resources. Furthermore, patient health-related, life style and social factors should all influence the shared decision-making process leading up to hernia management. Mesh repair is recommended as first choice, either by an open procedure or a laparo-endoscopic repair technique. One standard repair technique for all groin hernias does not exist. It is recommended that surgeons/surgical services provide both anterior and posterior approach options. Lichtenstein and laparo-endoscopic repair are best evaluated. Many other techniques need further evaluation. Provided that resources and expertise are available, laparo-endoscopic techniques have faster recovery times, lower chronic pain risk and are cost effective. There is discussion concerning laparo-endoscopic management of potential bilateral hernias (occult hernia issue). After patient consent, during TAPP, the contra-lateral side should be inspected. This is not suggested during unilateral TEP repair. After appropriate discussions with patients concerning results tissue repair (first choice is the Shouldice technique) can be offered. Day surgery is recommended for the majority of groin hernia repair provided aftercare is organized. Surgeons should be aware of the intrinsic characteristics of the meshes they use. Use of so-called low-weight mesh may have slight short-term benefits like reduced postoperative pain and shorter convalescence, but are not associated with better longer-term outcomes like recurrence and chronic pain. Mesh selection on weight alone is not recommended. The incidence of erosion seems higher with plug versus flat mesh. It is suggested not to use plug repair techniques. The use of other implants to replace the standard flat mesh in the Lichtenstein technique is currently not recommended. In almost all cases, mesh fixation in TEP is unnecessary. In both TEP and TAPP it is recommended to fix mesh in M3 hernias (large medial) to reduce recurrence risk. Antibiotic prophylaxis in average-risk patients in low-risk environments is not recommended in open surgery. In laparo-endoscopic repair it is never recommended. Local anesthesia in open repair has many advantages, and its use is recommended provided the surgeon is experienced in this technique.
General anesthesia is suggested over regional in patients aged 65 and older as it might be associated with fewer complications like myocardial infarction, pneumonia and thromboembolism. Perioperative field blocks and/or subfascial/subcutaneous infiltrations are recommended in all cases of open repair. Patients are recommended to resume normal activities without restrictions as soon as they feel comfortable. Provided expertise is available, it is suggested that women with groin hernias undergo laparo-endoscopic repair in order to decrease the risk of chronic pain and avoid missing a femoral hernia. Watchful waiting is suggested in pregnant women as groin swelling most often consists of self-limited round ligament varicosities. Timely mesh repair by a laparo-endoscopic approach is suggested for femoral hernias provided expertise is available. All complications of groin hernia management are discussed in an extensive chapter on the topic. Overall, the incidence of clinically significant chronic pain is in the 10-12% range, decreasing over time. Debilitating chronic pain affecting normal daily activities or work ranges from 0.5 to 6%. Chronic postoperative inguinal pain (CPIP) is defined as bothersome moderate pain impacting daily activities lasting at least 3 months postoperatively and decreasing over time. CPIP risk factors include: young age, female gender, high preoperative pain, early high postoperative pain, recurrent hernia and open repair. For CPIP the focus should be on nerve recognition in open surgery and, in selected cases, prophylactic pragmatic nerve resection (planned resection is not suggested). It is suggested that CPIP management be performed by multi-disciplinary teams. It is also suggested that CPIP be managed by a combination of pharmacological and interventional measures and, if this is unsuccessful, followed by, in selected cases (triple) neurectomy and (in selected cases) mesh removal. For recurrent hernia after anterior repair, posterior repair is recommended. If recurrence occurs after a posterior repair, an anterior repair is recommended. After a failed anterior and posterior approach, management by a specialist hernia surgeon is recommended. Risk factors for hernia incarceration/strangulation include: female gender, femoral hernia and a history of hospitalization related to groin hernia. It is suggested that treatment of emergencies be tailored according to patient- and hernia-related factors, local expertise and resources. Learning curves vary between different techniques. Probably about 100 supervised laparo-endoscopic repairs are needed to achieve the same results as open mesh surgery like Lichtenstein. It is suggested that case load per surgeon is more important than center volume. It is recommended that minimum requirements be developed to certify individuals as expert hernia surgeon. The same is true for the designation "Hernia Center". From a cost-effectiveness perspective, day-case laparoscopic IH repair with minimal use of disposables is recommended. The development and implementation of national groin hernia registries in every country (or region, in the case of small country populations) is suggested. They should include patient follow-up data and account for local healthcare structures. A dissemination and implementation plan of the guidelines will be developed by global (HerniaSurge), regional (international societies) and local (national chapters) initiatives through internet websites, social media and smartphone apps.
An overarching plan to improve access to safe IH surgery in low-resource settings (LRSs) is needed. It is suggested that this plan contains simple guidelines and a sustainability strategy, independent of international aid. It is suggested that in LRSs the focus be on performing high-volume Lichtenstein repair under local anesthesia using low-cost mesh. Three chapters discuss future research, guidelines for general practitioners and guidelines for patients.
The HerniaSurge Group has developed these extensive and inclusive guidelines for the management of adult groin hernia patients. It is hoped that they will lead to better outcomes for groin hernia patients wherever they live. More knowledge, better training, national audit and specialization in groin hernia management will standardize care for these patients, lead to more effective and efficient healthcare and provide direction for future research.