What you can expect
Before the procedure
Before vasectomy reversal surgery, your doctor will likely want to:
- Take your history and perform a physical exam. Your doctor will want to make sure that you don't have health concerns that could complicate surgery.
- Check to see whether you can produce healthy sperm. For most men, having fathered a child before is proof enough. In rare cases, if your doctor is unsure whether you are producing healthy sperm, you may need additional testing.
- Confirm that your partner is capable of having a child. Your doctor will want to see whether your partner has any fertility problems, especially if your partner has never had a child or is older than age 40. This may require a gynecological exam and other tests.
Doctors usually perform vasectomy reversals at a surgery center or hospital. The procedure is generally done on an outpatient basis — without an overnight stay. Some surgeons are able to do the surgery in the clinic, but you'll want to make sure that the surgeon is able to do a more complex repair (vasoepididymostomy) in the clinic, if that becomes necessary.
Your doctor may use general anesthesia to make you unconscious during surgery. Or your surgeon may give you an anesthetic that keeps you from feeling pain but doesn't put you to sleep — such as a local anesthetic.
Vasectomy reversal is more difficult than a vasectomy and is usually done using microsurgery, in which a surgeon uses a powerful surgical microscope to magnify the vas deferens as much as 40 times its size. This type of surgery requires specialized skills and expertise.
Doctors performing this surgery usually will reattach the vas deferens in one of two ways:
- Vasovasostomy (vas-o-vay-ZOS-tuh-me). With this procedure, the surgeon sews back together the severed ends of each tube that carries sperm (vas deferens).
- Vasoepididymostomy (vas-o-ep-ih-did-ih-MOS-tuh-me). This surgery attaches the vas deferens directly to the small organ at the back of each testicle that holds sperm (epididymis). A vasoepididymostomy is more complicated than a vasovasostomy and is generally chosen if a vasovasostomy can't be done or isn't likely to work.
The decision to perform a vasovasostomy versus a vasoepididymostomy depends on whether sperm are seen when fluid from the vas deferens is analyzed at the time of surgery.
You probably won't know ahead of time which procedure is needed. In most cases, the surgeon decides during the operation which technique will work best. Sometimes a combination of the two surgical techniques is needed — a vasovasostomy on one side and a vasoepididymostomy on the other. The longer it has been since your vasectomy, the more likely you are to need a vasoepididymostomy on one or both sides.
During the procedure
During surgery, your doctor will make a small cut (incision) on your scrotum. This will expose the tube that carries sperm (vas deferens) and release it from surrounding tissues.
Next, the doctor will cut open the vas deferens and examine the fluid inside. When sperm are present in the fluid, the ends of the vas deferens can be connected to re-establish the passageway for sperm.
If the fluid contains no sperm, scar tissue may be blocking sperm flow. In this case, your doctor may choose to perform a vasoepididymostomy.
Robot-assisted surgery has been used for vasectomy reversal, but usually is required only in select cases.
After the procedure
Immediately after surgery, your doctor will cover the incisions with bandages. You'll put on tightfitting undergarments, such as an athletic supporter, and apply ice for 24 to 48 hours to reduce swelling.
You may be sore for several days. If your doctor places bandages over the incisions after your surgery, ask when it's OK to take them off. Any stitches should dissolve in seven to 10 days.
After you return home, take it easy and try to limit activities that might cause the testicles to move around excessively. As the anesthetic wears off, you may have some pain and swelling. For most men, the pain isn't severe and gets better after a few days to a week.
Your doctor may also give you the following instructions:
- Wear an athletic supporter for several weeks at all times, except when showering. After that, you'll need to continue to wear one when you exercise.
- For the first two days after surgery, avoid anything that might get the surgery site wet, such as bathing or swimming.
- Limit any activities that may pull on the testicles or scrotum, such as jogging, sporting activities, biking or heavy lifting, for at least six to eight weeks after surgery.
- If you have a desk job, you'll probably be able to return to work a few days after surgery. If you perform physical labor or have a job that requires much walking or driving, talk to your doctor about when it's safe to go back to work.
- Don't have sexual intercourse or ejaculate until your doctor says it's OK. Most men need to refrain from ejaculating for two to three weeks after surgery.
Although it's usually not required or recommended, you may choose to have sperm frozen (cryopreservation) in case your vasectomy reversal doesn't work. If you're not able to father a child through sexual intercourse, you may still be able to have children through assisted reproductive technology such as in vitro fertilization.