Incarceration of inguinal, umbilical and cicatricial hernias is a frequent problem. However, little is known about the relationship between the use of mesh and outcome after surgery. The goal of this study was to describe the relationship between the use of mesh in incarcerated hernia and the clinical outcome. Correspondence, operation reports and patient files between January 1995 and December 2005 of patients presented at one academic and one teaching hospital in Rotterdam were searched for the following keywords: incarceration, strangulation and hernia. The patient characteristics, clinical presentation, pre-operative findings and clinical course were scored and analysed. A total of 203 patients could be identified: 76 inguinal, 52 umbilical, 39 incisional, 14 epigastric, 14 femoral, five trocar and three spigelian hernias. In the statistical analysis, epigastric, femoral, trocar and spigelian hernias were pooled, due to their small group sizes. One patient was excluded from the analysis because the hernia was not corrected during operation. In total, 99 hernias were repaired using mesh versus 103 primary suture repairs. Twenty-five wound infections were registered (12.3%). One mesh was removed during a reintervention for anastomotic leakage, although no signs of wound infection were present. Nine patients died, none of them due to wound-related problems [one cardiovascular, one ruptured aneurysm, two anastomotic leakage, two sepsis e causa incognita (e.c.i.), three pulmonary complications]. Univariate analysis showed that female patients (P = 0.007), adipose patients (P = 0.016), patients with an umbilical hernia (P = 0.01) and patients who underwent a bowel resection (P = 0.015) had a significantly higher rate of wound infections. The type of repair (e.g. primary suture or mesh), use of antibiotic prophylaxis, gender, ASA class and age showed no significant relation with post-operative wound infection. After logistic regression analysis, only bowel resection (P = 0.020) showed a significant relation with post-operative wound infection. Wound infection rates are high after the correction of acute hernia, but clinical consequences are relatively low. Mesh correction of an acute hernia seems to be safe and should be considered in every incarcerated hernia.