(Article medically reviewed by Dr. Zac Hyde M.D)
Can a Hernia Cause ED?
From grade school sports to yearly checkups, we men have been turning our heads and coughing for decades.
By now, we know that what “Dr. Cold Hands” is actually searching for is something called a hernia.
But what exactly is a hernia?
Moreover, is there any truth to the rumor that certain types of hernias can lead to erectile dysfunction?
Let’s warm up our hands and do a close examination of this topic, shall we?
The Answer Isn’t as Easy as You Think
Yes, it is possible for a hernia to affect your sexual function. How exactly this happens, however, is a bit of a mystery.
It’s often assumed that groin-related hernias reduce testicular function and hormone production.
As we already know from articles like this, this could lead to erectile dysfunction by way of either hormonal deficiencies or physical damage (or, in some cases, a combination of the two).
That said, it is pretty rare to experience a hernia bad enough to cause ED.
Moreover, most doctors will tell you that the soft nature of the herniated tissue is not likely to cause any problems for your genitals, let alone your hormone production.
After all, you have two testicles, and just one of them can supply your daily needs of testosterone.
Hernia and Erectile Dysfunction – SOMETHING is Happening
There’s no ignoring the fact that men are experiencing hernia-related sexual side effects.
In fact, in one study, about 23% of men who underwent hernia surgery complained of pre-operative sexual issues.
Specifically, they reported symptoms ranging from pain with orgasm and pain with erection to an inability to get or maintain an erection.
Unfortunately – as we’ll see – experts are pretty divided over what exactly is happening to these men.
You see, there are only two types of hernias that typically come anywhere near the groin.
They are femoral hernias and inguinal hernias.
In 9 out of 10 cases in which testicular, erectile, or hormonal dysfunction was reported, the patient was dealing with the latter.
Inguinal hernias are almost always groin-based, with either the bladder or intestine pushing down into the area known as the inguinal canal.
Depending on the nature of the breakthrough, the wayward organ may be stopped by the inguinal ligament or aided by it.
However, if the condition is left alone for a long time, the organ’s journey southward may continue.
At this point, it can enter the scrotum and put pressure on your testicles, epididymis, spermatic cord, and urethra.
Can this cause the sort of symptoms these men are reporting?
The only honest answer is: “maybe.”
What Exactly is a Hernia?
Before we get too deep into this “worst-case scenario,” let’s spend a little bit of time talking about what a hernia is and how they develop.
After all, most reports of hernia-induced sexual dysfunction is the result of the condition being untreated for a long period of time.
This means that the sooner you can recognize the causes, symptoms, and signs, the sooner you can get on top of the problem.
Types of Hernias…
- Hiatal Hernia – One of the most common hernia types. This is when a piece of the upper stomach manages to squeeze through the opening in the diaphragm that holds the esophagus. Unfortunately, they are notoriously difficult to diagnose because almost all of the symptoms tend to mirror gastrointestinal issues.
- Umbilical Hernia – You might think you’re safe from this type of hernia – you not being an infant and all. However, it’s not unheard of for adult women and men to develop this condition, which is typified by the small intestine passing through the abdominal wall near the navel.
- Femoral Hernia – This type of hernia occurs when the intestine is pushed into the canal holding the femoral artery (found in your thigh). In most cases, the bulge will typically make an appearance on the outside of your pelvic crease, near the top of your leg.
- Incisional Hernia – If you’ve recently had abdominal surgery, are overweight, or over the age of 70, you can’t rule this one out . This is where the intestine pushes through the abdominal wall at the current (or former) incision site, and it can be a real problem.
- Inguinal Hernia – As we’ve already explained, this is where the intestine or bladder escapes the abdominal wall or moves into the groin. Due to the fact that we have scrotums and women do not, men have a natural weakness in that area. This not only makes us extremely susceptible to inguinal hernias but can make them hard to diagnose as well.
Common Ways Hernias Develop
Even those with just a passing knowledge of hernias often associate them with attempting to lift large or heavy objects.
This is true, as straining without stabilizing your abdominal muscles can cause breaches in the wall that keeps your intestines and other bits where they should be.
However, attempting to macho man your way through a project that requires a dolly isn’t the only way you can put yourself in danger.
There is also…
Intestinal and Bowel Issues – Like it or not, your stomach muscles play a big part in our daily bowel evacuation. Overuse them, and you could end up weakening the abdominal wall enough to cause a hernia. And we’re not just talking about straining due to constipation or diarrhea either. Our modern toilet design can cause loads of problems, as it actually pinches our bowels by keeping us assuming our natural “squatting” position.
Respiratory Problems – A sneeze is just a sneeze, right? Well, yes and no. You see, sneezes and coughs are extremely forceful, and we often engage a lot of muscles throughout the process. So if you happen to go through a particularly tough allergy season, you could end up sneezing or coughing your way to a painful (and hard to diagnose) hernia.
Poor Nutrition and Health – Contrary to what your 18-year-old self might have told you, you are not – in fact – invincible. If you’re obese, suffer from poor nutrition, smoke, or make other generally crappy health choices, your stomach muscles (and the lining attached to them) could deteriorate to the point that even a mild strain can lead to a hernia.
How Often Do Hernias Cause Sexual Problems?
Again, it’s rare that a hernia gets to the point where it could compromise the blood supply to the testicles or obstruct the physical operation of your genitals.
That said, it’s certainly not impossible.
However, there are two other factors that we’re yet to discuss that could play a role in why some men who suffer inguinal hernias end up losing their sexual mojo while others don’t.
Hernia and Erectile Dysfunction Causes
Accroding to scientists, there is a Psychosomatic Connection.
Our minds are extremely powerful things. And when it comes to male sexual function, it doesn’t always take a physical problem to shut down the fun factory.
Indeed, psychological erectile dysfunction is the real deal and studies show it can be just as problematic and difficult to overcome as physical ED.
So when it comes to inguinal hernias, the mere fact that something “isn’t quite feeling right” in such a sensitive region could be the culprit.
This can be especially true if you aren’t 100% sure what’s causing the pain, discomfort, and swelling yet.
Ever tried to perform while the words “testicular cancer” are repeatedly flashing through your mind?
It’s not easy.
So while this might not be as satisfying an answer as “yes, your testes are totally being crushed by an invading piece of small intestine,” it’s just as likely.
In fact, if the hernia is behind the psychosomatic feelings, it is no less the “cause” of your ED than it would be if it were cutting off your T supply
Hernia and ED Cause #2 The Solution is the Problem
Remember that study we mentioned early on?
It stated that 23% of men who underwent hernia surgery complained of pre-operative sexual problems.
Well, the same study found that about 16% complained about post-operative erectile dysfunction as well.
Exactly the same: pain during intercourse or ejaculation, and an inability to get or maintain a satisfactory erection.
And there’s more: a study into whether or not the surgery is to blame found some rather interesting results.
Of course, just as we mentioned above, it’s worth remembering that any pain or discomfort in that region can be enough to throw a man off his game.
Still, there have been instances of post-surgical effects that have obvious erectile-inhibition potential.
For instance, most doctors will use a special surgical mesh to repair your abdominal lining after a hernial breach.
In some reports, nerve endings have been caught in this mesh, reducing sensation or otherwise inhibiting erectile response.
This same mesh can cause long-term tissues induration, which has been shown to impact sexual function in some patients.
Hernia and Erectile Dysfunction Conclusion
So, what’s the answer? Well, that depends on the question.
If the question is: “can a hernia lead to erectile dysfunction,” the answer is “yes.”
As we’ve seen, there are three ways this can happen. The first (and least likely) would be the result of the inguinal hernia interfering with the genitals.
The second would be a cause in which psychosomatic ED developed due to pelvic discomfort or pain.
However, the third (and most likely) cause of ED is due to some physical side effect of the surgery designed to repair the hernia, NOT the hernia itself.
It’s a bit of a “chicken and egg” scenario, as most men won’t know what to blame when the dick difficulties begin: the illness or the cure.
With any luck, we’ll see some more detailed studies in the future into just what’s happening to men before and after hernia treatment.