Blog # 141
(Image designed by Jeff Siegel)
With February 14, 2014 having just passed—a day filled with roses and chocolates—it is interesting to note that there are those who believe that it is a vasectomy that makes the ultimate Valentine’s Day gift! If you are comfortable with the size of your family, tired and unhappy with birth control, or you have determined that you do not want to have more children, than a vasectomy may be a consideration. Every year, half a million men in the USA decide to have a vasectomy as a means of permanent birth control. Vasectomy is the most effective means of contraception, second only to abstinence. During a vasectomy, each vas deferens, aka, vas (the tube that transports sperm) is cut and sealed, preventing the sperm from being present in the semen. It is a simple, safe, and time-honored means of achieving permanent male fertility control.
The female version of a vasectomy is a tubal ligation (blocking the fallopian tubes to prevent pregnancy). This is an effective technique as well; however, vasectomy is a skin-deep procedure versus a tubal ligation, a much more invasive procedure because it requires going into the abdomen. Additionally, a vasectomy can be performed under local anesthesia with or without intravenous sedation whereas tubal ligation requires general anesthesia, and there exists a simple test for the effectiveness of vasectomy, but no such tests for tubal ligations (aside from a costly and uncomfortable x-ray test). Vasectomy is safer and cheaper than a tubal ligation. Something else to consider is that the one-time cost of a vasectomy may prove less expensive over time than the cost of other birth control methods including oral contraceptives and condoms. In general, insurance companies are very willing to cover vasectomy for no reason other than they are less expensive to their bottom line than are more pregnancies.
Basic anatomy: The testicles are responsible for sperm production. After sperm cells are manufactured, they ascend into the epididymis, a comet-shaped structure located behind the testicles. From the epididymis arises the vas deferens that runs up the groin in the spermatic cord, then courses behind the bladder where its terminal end forms the ejaculatory duct. This duct empties into the urethra, the channel that conducts urine and semen through the penis.
Consultation: Before considering a vasectomy, it is important to have an initial consultation with a urologist, the surgeon who performs this procedure. This includes a medical history and physical examination that is brief and painless, with ample time allotted for a detailed discussion about the vasectomy process and for answering any questions that you or your spouse might have.
Procedure: Vasectomy is considered to be a minor surgical procedure, which is typically performed in the office or ambulatory surgery setting. It usually takes 20 minutes or so to perform. It can be done under local anesthesia with or without intravenous sedation. It has been my experience that intravenous sedation makes the procedure much more comfortable for the patient and easier for the surgeon. With sedation, you will be conscious yet calm and comfortable while monitored under the expert care of an anesthesiologist.
After sedation is established, the scrotum is shaved and cleansed. The area is draped with sterile surgical towels so that only a small area of skin is exposed. Local anesthesia is administered and via two tiny punctures in the scrotum, the vas is accessed. There are many different ways to interrupt the sperm flow—I prefer removing a ½ inch segment of vas, doubly clipping each end, and using cautery to seal the edges. The small puncture in the skin may be closed with a suture that will dissolve, or alternatively, skin glue. The vas specimens are sent out to a pathologist for standard review.
Recovery: Restrictions of activities for the first 24 hours will reduce the chance of swelling, bruising, bleeding, and pain. An application of an ice pack to the scrotum intermittently for the first 24 hours—20 minutes on and 20 minutes off—is effective to help reduce swelling. Mild discomfort is typical and is best treated with an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen. Wearing elastic, supportive jockey shorts is helpful to keep the scrotum immobilized. It is normal to experience swelling, minor pain, and spotting from the incision for several days. It is important to restrict heavy lifting and exercise for approximately 5-7 days, but the activities of daily living including walking, stair climbing, working and sex can be resumed as soon as you are feeling well enough.
Follow-Up: It is imperative to obtain a semen analysis to ensure absence of sperm in the semen. It can take weeks to months until all the sperm are cleared, but typically after 20 or so ejaculations most men will no longer have sperm in the semen. It is very important to continue using contraception until the sperm count is determined to be zero.
- Temporary bleeding, bruising, pain.
- Ongoing pain due to congestive epididymitis—on occasion the epididymis can become painfully swollen with sperm congestion, which is usually easily treated with ibuprofen and rest
- Infection—very rare because the scrotum has such a wonderful blood supply
- Sperm granuloma—a small, hard lump that feels like a bead at the end of the divided vas; this forms when sperm leak from the severed vas and inflame the surrounding tissue. This is usually treated with rest and ibuprofen and, on rare occasions, surgery is required to remove it.
- Recanalization (leading to failure of the procedure)—this is when the cut ends of the vas deferens grow back together and you regain fertility, an extremely rare situation occurring in approximately 1/1000 patients.
Q & A : (I have collated the ten most commonly asked questions by patients regarding their vasectomy.)
Q. Will my testicles still make sperm after my vasectomy?
A. Yes; but your body absorbs and disposes of them.
Q. Will I notice a difference in my ejaculate volume?
A. Since the sperm only contributes a small amount of the seminal volume, there should be no noticeable difference in the volume of the semen.
Q. Does vasectomy protect me against sexually transmitted diseases?
A. No, no, no…I repeat no! Use protection!
Q. Is sex different after vasectomy?
A. Generally no, although some men say that without the worry of accidental pregnancy and the bother of other birth control methods, sex after vasectomy is more relaxed and enjoyable than ever before.
Q. Does vasectomy affect my ability to get an erection or change the way I urinate?
Q. Does vasectomy affect my testosterone level?
Q. Is vasectomy reversible?
A. It is reversible with the best results achieved in the initial 10 years following vasectomy. Vasectomy reversal is a complicated procedure requiring general anesthesia and microscopic reconnection of the blocked vas deferens. It typically takes several hours to perform. It’s a big deal whereas a vasectomy is a little deal.
Q. A few years ago I heard that vasectomy could cause prostate cancer–is that true?
A. Vasectomy does not cause prostate cancer; however, men who undergo vasectomies have relationships with urologists, the specialists who are attuned to prostate issues, and therefore, men who undergo vasectomy are more likely to undergo prostate cancer screening and diagnosis than the average man who does not see a urologist.
Q. Why should I bother with sedation? How about just local anesthesia?
A. I never met a patient who enjoyed having a needle placed into his scrotum and local anesthetic injected; with sedation, there will be no awareness of that happening. Furthermore, with the inevitable anxiety that patients experience concerning surgery on their genitals, there is typically a reflex contraction of several muscles (cremaster and dartos muscles) that effectively lift the testicles high in the scrotum and sometimes into the groin, making the procedure technically more difficult. The sedation promotes emotional and physical relaxation and makes the procedure technically so much easier for the surgeon and so much more pleasant for the patient.=
Q. How does one do a semen analysis?
A. It involves masturbating into a specimen cup. Place the cup into a paper bag and bring it to the designated lab along with the prescription for the semen analysis. Try to get it to the lab as quickly as possible. The specimen will be studied under the microscope for the presence of sperm.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!
Andrew Siegel, M.D.
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Author of: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health; in press and available in e-book and paperback formats in March 2014. www.MalePelvicFitness.com
Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food: www.promiscuouseating.com
Author of Finding Your Own Fountain of Youth: The Essential Guide For Maximizing Health, Wellness, Fitness & Longevity (free electronic download) www.findyourfountainofyouth.com
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Tags: Andrew Siegel MD, birth control, ejaculation, semen, semen analysis, sex, sperm, testes, testosterone, tubal ligation, Valentine's Day, vas, vas deferens, vasectomy, vasectomy reversal, voluntary sterilization