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To examine the hypothesis that elective laparoscopic repair should be routinely performed on patients with asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic paraesophageal hernias.The management of asymptomatic paraesophageal hernias is a controversial issue. Most surgeons believe that all paraesophageal hernias should be corrected electively on diagnosis, irrespective of symptoms, to prevent the development of complications and avoid the risk of emergency surgery.A Markov Monte Carlo decision analytic model was developed to track a hypothetical cohort of patients with asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic paraesophageal hernia and reflect the possible clinical outcomes associated with two treatment strategies: elective laparoscopic paraesophageal hernia repair (ELHR) or watchful waiting (WW). The input variables for ELHR were estimated from a pooled analysis of 20 published studies, while those for WW and emergency surgery were derived from the 1997 HCUP-NIS database and surgical literature published from 1964 to 2000. Outcomes for the two strategies were expressed in quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs).Analysis of the HCUP-NIS database showed that published studies overestimate the mortality of emergency surgery (17% vs. 5.4%). The mortality rate of ELHR was 1.4%. The annual probability of developing acute symptoms requiring emergency surgery with the WW strategy was 1.1%. For patients 65 years of age, ELHR resulted in reduction of 0.13 QALYs (10.78 vs. 10.65) compared with WW. The model predicted that WW was the optimal treatment strategy in 83% of patients and ELHR in the remaining 17%. The model was sensitive only to alterations of the mortality rates of ELHR and emergency surgery.If ELHR is routinely recommended, it would be more beneficial than WW in fewer than one of five patients. WW is a reasonable alternative for the initial management of patients with asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic paraesophageal hernias, and even if an emergency operation is required, the burden of the procedure is not as severe as was thought in the past.