Background: Although inguinal hernia repair is a common and safe procedure, a significant portion of patients who undergo surgical repair experience postoperative chronic pain. We conducted a clinical trial to determine if delay of repair is a safe and acceptable alternative for men with minimally symptomatic inguinal hernias. Here we report on the effects of delay on the patient's family. Study Design: Data are from a randomized trial in which men with asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic inguinal hernia were randomly assigned to either open tension-free repair (TFR) or watchful waiting (WW). Patients indicated a person who could assist them if necessary because of their hernia or hernia operation, and these persons (mostly spouses) answered a questionnaire at baseline and followup addressing concern about the patient's ability to perform home, social, and recreational activities and time spent assisting the patient with chores because of his hernia condition. Results: In both intention-to-treat and as-treated analyses, at 2 years after enrollment, family members of patients assigned to WW were more likely to report concern about the patient's ability to perform the four types of activities. But a majority of respondents in both the WW and TFR groups indicated no concern about performance of any of the activities. In the as-treated analysis, family members of patients assigned to TFR who did not receive repair reported more time assisting the patient than those of TFR patients who received the assigned treatment. Conclusions: The results favor repair, but the low level of concern about the patient's functioning reported for both TFR and WW patients suggests that this is not a major issue in delaying repair of inguinal hernias in minimally symptomatic men.
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