OBJECTIVE: To compare the clinical recurrence rate with reoperation rate for recurrence after ventral hernia repair. BACKGROUND: Reoperation is often used as an outcome measure after ventral hernia repair, but it is unknown whether reoperation rate reflects the overall clinical risk for recurrence. METHODS: The study cohort was recruited from the Danish Ventral Hernia Database and the Danish National Patient Registry during January 1, 2007, to December 31, 2007. Inclusion criteria were primary umbilical/epigastric (umb/epi) or incisional hernia repair from a regional area of 2 million inhabitants. A prospective clinical follow-up was conducted in January 2011 using a validated questionnaire on reoperation and possible recurrence. Suspicion of recurrence was the criterion for clinical examination. A telephone interview and/or patients' hospital files confirmed reoperation. RESULTS: A total of 945 patients were eligible, and 902 patients responded to the questionnaire (response rate 95%) with a median postoperative follow-up of 41 months (range 0-48 months). The analysis comprised 646 patients with umb/epi and 256 patients with incisional hernia repair. Clinical examination was required in 241 patients. After umb/epi and incisional hernia repair, the cumulative risks of reoperation and overall recurrence (reoperation + clinical) were 4% and 15% (fourfold underestimation), and 8% and 37% (fivefold underestimation) (P < 0.001), respectively. CONCLUSIONS: Reoperation rate for recurrence 41 months after primary umbilical/epigastric or incisional hernia repair underestimated overall risk of recurrence by four- to fivefolds. This study was registered in www.clinicaltrials.gov (NCT01325246).