If you’ve ever had a hernia and are currently struggling with erectile dysfunction (ED), you might wonder if the former is the cause of the latter. Can a hernia cause ED?
Or maybe you’re wondering if you can use erectile dysfunction medication like Viagra® after hernia surgery.
inguinal or groin hernia in particular is an area of concern for plenty of men, who wonder whether or not it can possibly affect their sexual function — mainly because of the location of the hernia.
Both a hernia and erectile dysfunction are serious health issues that can affect your sexual life on their own. The possibility that there may be a connection between them would be enough to make most men wince.
But first, let’s talk about some basics.
A hernia is an internal organ that protrudes through the muscle or tissue that contains it. A hernia typically happens in the area between the chest and hips, known as the abdominal cavity.
Some common types of hernias include:
Inguinal hernia. This type of hernia affects men more than women and happens in the inguinal canal when fatty tissue or a part of the intestine protrudes into the groin near the top of the inner thigh. In men, the inguinal canal leads the spermatic cord and blood vessels to the testicles. The inguinal canal in women contains the ligament that supports the womb.
Femoral hernia. A femoral hernia is part of the intestine or fatty tissue that pushes into the groin, also at the top of the inner thigh. This type of hernia is less common than an inguinal hernia and affects older women more.
Umbilical hernia. A hernia where fatty tissue or intestine pushes through the belly button or navel.
Hernias are fairly common medical conditions, with 75 percent to 80 percent of hernias that occur being inguinal hernia while three percent to 10 percent are umbilical hernias that occur generally.
A hernia can be the result of weakened muscles and strain from lifting heavy objects. You may also develop a hernia — specifically an umbilical hernia — if you’re overweight, have given birth recently or have a long-lasting cough.
Symptoms of a hernia can vary by the person as well as the type of hernia. An umbilical hernia for example may cause a mild ache or pain that becomes worse when strain is put on the abdomen — like lifting heavy weights or running.
However, the symptoms of an inguinal hernia can differ between men and women. Signs of an inguinal hernia in men generally consist of:
Aching pain near the area
Visible bulge or a bulge you can feel
Tugging sensation of the scrotum
Meanwhile, inguinal hernia symptoms in women can include sharp pain, burning, a discomfort that increases with movement and a possible bulge.
Hernias typically don’t go away on their own and often need surgical repair to be healed. Men may put off inguinal hernia repair surgery if they’re not showing symptoms. However, hernias can grow and cause more complications over time, especially if left untreated.
There are two options for inguinal hernia surgery.
The first is a minimally invasive inguinal surgery that uses laparoscopic surgery with small incisions and has a recovery time of approximately two weeks.
The other is an open surgery, where surgeons make an incision directly at the location of the hernia. This surgery has a longer recovery time of four to six weeks.
Regardless of the type of procedure, surgeons sometimes insert a synthetic mesh to provide extra support to the weak spot.
Inguinal hernia repair is common, accounting for about 800,000 surgeries performed each year in the U.S.
So, is there any connection between a hernia and erectile dysfunction?
Before we answer this question, here’s some information on erectile dysfunction.
Erectile dysfunction happens when a man is unable to get and maintain a firm erection for penetrative sexual intercourse. This is a common issue, affecting about 30 million men in the U.S. and typically affecting older men. This can certainly cause issues in someone's sexual relationship.
Erectile dysfunction can vary in severity, such as:
Getting a firm erection but having difficulty maintaining the erection after penetration
Finding it difficult to get an erection every time you want to have sex
Not being able to get an erection at all, even when you’re sexually stimulated
Our guide on how to know if you have erectile dysfunction covers more about erectile function and what ED can look like.
Causes of erectile dysfunction can range from psychological reasons like stress to underlying health issues. So can a hernia cause ED?
Although hernias don’t cause pain for everyone, some people may experience sexual dysfunction if they are experiencing pain.
A small study published in the International Journal of Urology found that just over 23 percent of patients (both men and women) complained about preoperative sexual dysfunction.
People may also experience sexual dysfunction or chronic pain after hernia surgery. The above study also found that 16 percent of patients had sexual dysfunction after inguinal hernia repair.
Another 2020 review of 12 different studies concerning inguinal hernia surgery and men’s sexual health found that sexual dysfunction was an issue for five percent of men after hernia surgery, while nine percent experienced severe pain during sexual activity.
The severe pain some people experience after surgery may be associated with the mesh used in hernia repair causing inflammation or pain. Or patients with pain may be experiencing a nerve being caught in the mesh, causing severe pain.
Having an inguinal hernia and undergoing surgical repair may also impact sexual activity and the mesh repair could also lead to long-term tissue induration — which can impact sexual functions — according to a 2016 study published in the Central European Journal of Urology.
Bruising and swelling of the scrotum, base of the penis and testicles can also occur in some patients after open or laparoscopic surgery. Still, these symptoms should gradually fade on their own.
While there typically aren’t any medical or physical restrictions on sexual activity after surgery, patients should let any pain or discomfort guide their decisions, as sex may be uncomfortable at first. You should also consult with your health care provider about the recovery process if you’re going through with a hernia repair.
While there have been some reports of patients with pain after hernia surgery, the chance of an inguinal hernia causing sexual dysfunction is actually very low.
Despite being near the reproductive organs, the inguinal canal is separate, which means it has its own nerves.
Luckily, this means the nerves in the inguinal canal are the only ones that may be affected by an inguinal hernia or the surgery to repair it.
You may be more likely to experience pain or issues with sexual function if you don’t properly treat a hernia with surgery.
However, if you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction you may want to look into other possible causes.
Fortunately, erectile dysfunction is one of the easiest forms of sexual dysfunction to treat, either with FDA-approved medications, non-pharmaceutical treatments or a mix of both.
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Now that we’ve answered “can hernia cause erectile dysfunction”, we’ll cover other treatment options as well as let you know if you can take medications like Viagra after hernia surgery.
Your health care provider can look at your symptoms and identify any possible causes of your erectile dysfunction, which can help them figure out a treatment plan that works best for you.
Oral medication is a common treatment for erectile dysfunction, with several drugs having been approved for use by the FDA.
Viagra® (or the generic-version sildenafil) is one of the most common medications on the market, with a recommended dose of 50mg for most men.
You shouldn’t take Viagra if you’re currently taking medications such as nitrates, alpha-blockers or antihypertensives, or if you’ve been advised not to participate in sexual activities due to your cardiovascular status by your health care provider.
We’ve covered these restrictions more in depth in our guide How to Take Sildenafil for Erectile Dysfunction.
If you undergo hernia surgery, you may be instructed to take a painkiller to help with tenderness or swelling of the scrotum. Although there are typically no interactions between pain medication and ED medication, you should consult with your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns about taking Viagra after hernia surgery.
You can also check out our guide on the latest ED treatments if you’re interested in learning about other options.
These treatment options include counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy, couples therapy or sex therapy. Psychotherapy can generally involve exploring the mental and emotional factors that contribute to your ED and learning to change those negative patterns of thought.
You can take part in counseling locally or you can connect with a mental healthcare provider from the comfort and privacy of your home with our online therapy services.
You can prevent erectile dysfunction by making some lifestyle changes. Lifestyle habits such as increased physical activity, eating a healthy diet and quitting smoking have all been found to help with erectile dysfunction prevention.
While having a hernia can certainly cause pain or discomfort (especially if left untreated), there’s not much evidence that a hernia causes erectile dysfunction.
You might experience pain or discomfort after hernia repair surgery that leads to sexual dysfunction, but erectile dysfunction is a bit of a stretch.
Either way, your first step should be contacting your healthcare provider and telling them what’s going on. They’ll be able to take a closer look at the symptoms you’re experiencing and help you find the treatment you need.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.