Does prophylactic mesh placement in elective, midline laparotomy reduce the incidence of incisional hernia? A systematic review and meta-analysis

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Operative intervention to correct incisional hernia affects 150,000 patients annually, with 1 in 3 repairs recurring within 9 years. The aim of this study was to compare the incidence of incisional hernia and postoperative complications in elective midline laparotomy patients after the use of prophylactic mesh placement and primary suture closure.


A systematic review was performed to identify studies comparing prophylactic mesh placement to primary suture closure in elective, midline laparotomy at index abdominal aponeurosis closure. The primary outcome was incisional hernia. Secondary outcomes included postoperative complications.


Fourteen studies were included (2,114 patients), with 1,152 receiving prophylactic mesh placement. Prophylactic mesh placement decreased the risk of incisional hernia overall when compared to primary suture closure (relative risk = 0.15; P < .00001) and in trials using only polypropylene mesh versus 4:1 primary suture closure (relative risk = 0.15; P = .003). Prophylactic mesh placement reduced the risk of incisional hernia regardless of mesh location or composition: onlay (relative risk = 0.07; P < .0001), retrorectus (relative risk = 0.04; P = .002), and preperitoneal (relative risk = 0.18; P = .02). Prophylactic mesh placement increased risk of seroma overall (relative risk = 1.95; P < .0001), onlay (relative risk = 2.43; P = .01) and preperitoneal (relative risk = 1.47; P = .01) but not retrorectus plane (relative risk = 1.55; P = .26). Polypropylene mesh increased seroma risk only in the onlay position (relative risk = 2.77; P = .04). Prophylactic mesh placement patients are at increased risk for chronic wound pain compared to primary suture closure (relative risk = 1.70; P = .03).


Prophylactic mesh placement is associated with an 85% postoperative incisional hernia risk reduction when compared to primary suture closure in at-risk patients undergoing elective, midline laparotomy closure. This technique appears to be safe with comparable complication profiles, barring an increased risk of seroma, especially with the onlay technique, and the possibility for an increased risk of chronic pain. Despite this verification, evidence from large domestic trials that sufficiently addresses major knowledge gaps is simply lacking.

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