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Vasectomy

Essential Information on Vasecotmies

A vasectomy is a medical procedure that renders a man infertile and is therefore used mainly as a form of permanent birth control. The equivalent for women is a tubal ligation, commonly referred to as "getting one's tubes tied."

In general, a tubal ligation is a far more complicated and expensive surgery than a vasectomy, but until recently, it was the more popular procedure. In the last few years, however, the trend has been toward vasectomies rather than tubal ligations.

Vasectomy Procedure

A vasectomy is considered minor surgery and generally takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete. In a traditional vasectomy, a small incision is made in the scrotum, through which the vas deferens tubes are cut and sealed (by tying, stitching or cauterizing) to prevent semen from mixing with ejaculate.

In a no-scalpel vasectomy, a special instrument is used to puncture and gently stretch the skin, allowing the doctor to reach the vas deferens without creating an incision. The small puncture wound heals faster, with less scar tissue and without stitches. The tubes are cut and sealed in the same manner of a traditional vasectomy.

Unlike a traditional or no-scalpel vasectomy, a Vasclip implant procedure uses a clamp (called a Vasclip) to block the vas deferens. The tube is not cut or sealed, which may reduce the risk of pain and complications.

Vasectomy Side Effects

A vasectomy does not stop the production of semen. Rather, it prevents the semen from mixing with the ejaculate and being expelled from the body. Instead, semen is eventually reabsorbed by the body (as is any unejaculated semen, regardless of whether a vasectomy has been performed).

The intended side effect of a vasectomy is, of course, sterility. Without semen, an egg cannot be fertilized. Thus, a vasectomy is intended as a permanent method of birth control.

Side effects immediately after the operation include numbness (from the local anesthetic), swelling and slight pain. Cold packs, rest and snug-fitting underwear or a jock strap can help provide relief.

The most common unintended side effect of a vasectomy is pregnancy. A vasectomy keeps newly produced sperm from entering the ejaculate, but it does not eliminate the sperm that may already be present. Therefore, doctors generally recommend using an additional form of birth control, such as condoms, until a follow-up test confirms a sperm count of zero.

Once the doctor indicates that the vasectomy was a success (sperm count is zero and no complications are present), there are rarely any long-term side effects. A vasectomy does not interfere with sex drive, sexual function (erections) or sexual pleasure.

Vasectomy Complications

The risk of complications after a vasectomy is low, but possible complications include:

  • Bleeding under the skin, resulting in swelling or bruising
  • Infection, particularly at the site of incision
  • Granuloma – a small lump created by sperm leaking from the vas deferens into surrounding tissue
  • Epididymitis – swelling of the tube that conducts the sperm to the vas deferens

These conditions are all relatively minor and fully treatable.

Vasectomy Reversal

A vasectomy is an extremely effective (over 99 percent) method of birth control, but it is permanent. This procedure is intended for men who don't want any more children or who don't want children at all. If you think that you might someday change your mind, consider other options.

There is a procedure to reconnect the vas deferens, but it is difficult, can be expensive and may not work. Success depends largely on the amount of time between the vasectomy and the reversal (also known as vasovasostomy). The more time that has passed, the less chance of success.

The reversal procedure takes longer than a vasectomy (2 to 4 hours), but is still considered minor surgery.

Of course, the best way to avoid the risk and complication of a vasectomy reversal is to make sure that a vasectomy is truly the best course of action in the first place. Talk to your partner and your doctor about the alternatives and what is best for your particular situation, both now and in the future.

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