Skip to main content
Can a Vasectomy Be Reversed?

You are listening to Health Library:

Can a Vasectomy Be Reversed?

Aug 18, 2021

A vasectomy is often considered a form of permanent sterilization, but as many as ten percent of men report wanting more kids after they’ve had the procedure. For those patients, a highly effective surgical option can help them become fertile again. Dr. Jim Hotaling explains the ins and outs of vasectomy reversal and if it is right for you.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Here to speak with us about vasectomy reversal is Dr. James Hotaling, a urologist and the director of the men's health program here at University of Utah Health. Now, Dr. Hotaling, when it comes to a procedure like this, what are some of the reasons a patient might be looking for a reversal?

Dr. Hotaling: About 6% of people who have a vasectomy will ultimately want it reversed. The most common reason is that they have gotten divorced and have a different partner and want kids with that new partner. Although we do see couples who have had kids, had a vasectomy and then decided they want more kids. So those are usually the most common reasons people want it reversed.

Interviewer: I've been seeing some rates that say, "Hey, you know, a reversal is only 30% to 90% effective." How effective is a procedure like this?

Dr. Hotaling: Yeah. It works about a 90% to 95% of the time.

Interviewer: Oh, wow.

Dr. Hotaling: So it's pretty effective. It depends a little bit on how far out you are from your vasectomy. If you're like 20 years out, it has a lower chance of success. Although it, you know, that chances of success still may be like 80%, 85% than if you're two years out, just because there's more scar tissue.

Interviewer: And we're determining success by being the ability to get pregnant.

Dr. Hotaling: Yeah. That's exactly right. You're determining success by having swimming sperm in the ejaculate.

Interviewer: And so what other factors besides just length of time since you've had the procedure?

Dr. Hotaling: Yeah. A little bit it can be exactly how the procedure was done. When you go back in there, you can either put the vas deferens back to the vas deferens, and that has the highest chance of success rate. Sometimes you have to put the vas deferens back to the epididymis or the sperm-holding tank, and that's smaller and that has like a 60% to 70% chance of success. It's lower. But if you can put the vas deferens back to the vas deferens, that success rate is really high. So if you look at all comers, you end up around 90% to 95%. That's really the biggest thing in determining the success rate and then also just, like we mentioned, how far out you are from having the reversal and to some degree just how the individual surgeon did the vasectomy.

Interviewer: If someone say listening to this and considering whether or not they should have their vasectomy reversed, what is, you know, what is the ideal candidate for a procedure like this? Like is anyone say, you know, not a good candidate? What makes a good person for this?

Dr. Hotaling: That's another really good question. So obviously somebody who wants to have kids in the future and somebody who if the wife is younger, that can be helpful, although it's not impossible to do it if their wife is older. Also for couples who want, you know, multiple kids, it can be helpful as well. And just cost considerations. You know, the cost of a vasectomy reversal is a lot less expensive than the cost of in vitro fertilization. It's like a third the price. So that's kind of the other option, the other consideration.

Interviewer: And is reversal ever covered by insurance?

Dr. Hotaling: No.

Interviewer: Okay. So it's out of pocket?

Dr. Hotaling: It's always out of pocket. Yeah.

Interviewer: What are some of the risks with getting this type of procedure, of getting it all back together?

Dr. Hotaling: Well, the biggest risk would be that it wouldn't work, which is really, really low. You know, the recovery is usually pretty minimal, a little bit of bruising, but not terrible, sore for, you know, maybe five days afterwards. We do use long-acting numbing medication that lasts for four days. So patients really don't have much pain from that. And then you have to take it easy for three weeks or so. In terms of the complication, some patients can get pain that lasts longer than that afterwards. As I mentioned, the chance that it couldn't work or just chance of some bruising or a very rare chance of infection, although that is exceptionally, exceptionally rare as in I've been doing this for eight years and I've only ever seen it happen once.

Interviewer: Wow.

Dr. Hotaling: So that's not common.

Interviewer: Okay. So here on The Scope we've talked before about vasectomies and what the procedure is like, what to expect. It's an outpatient procedure, you come on in and, you know, you heal up for a week or so, right? With a reversal, you know, like the day of the surgery, what are they expecting?

Dr. Hotaling: So they'll, you know, they won't have anything to eat or drink after midnight. They'll come in, in the morning. You know, they'll get an IV put in. They'll get drifted off to sleep. They'll go to sleep. Once they're asleep, we make two small incisions, one on either side of the scrotum, and then we go in and find where the blockage and we bring a high powered . . . we have this new digital microscope, it's like a $700,000 microscope that actually allows us to see in 3D with special glasses on.

Interviewer: Wow.

Dr. Hotaling: It actually is really helpful to do the procedure. So we bring that in. Then we put the tubes back together again with 12 sutures that are finer than a human hair and then put the local numbing medication and close everything up. Each incision is shorter than an inch on either side.

Interviewer: Oh, wow.

Dr. Hotaling: So two incisions, really small. Then you would wake up with some . . . And all the stitches melt away on their own. You'd wake up with some sort of biologic superglue over the incisions and then some gauze on the scrotum. And then you'd go home later that day. And most patients just take some Ibuprofen and Tylenol and that's it.

Interviewer: Wow. And you were saying that it's take it easy for a little bit and then three weeks until you're back to . . .

Dr. Hotaling: Yeah. It's really just no like sex, bike riding, or heavy lifting for three weeks. But you could be back on your computer doing work the next day. Often if I do the surgery on a Thursday, patients are back at work again certainly by Monday. And if I did the surgery on say a Tuesday, often by Thursday or Friday.

Interviewer: Once they're all healed up and once they're feeling good, how do we know, I guess, if it was a success?

Dr. Hotaling: Yeah. It's a great question. You know, we have had patients who get pregnant before we ever checked the first semen analysis.

Interviewer: Wow.

Dr. Hotaling: But usually we check in like 8 to 10 weeks, we check the sperm test. And it can take up to a year, even up to a year and a half, depending on the type of like reconstruction that we do.

Interviewer: Oh, wow. So it's not just you magically are?

Dr. Hotaling: Most patients, when it's successful, have sperm right away.

Interviewer: Oh, wow.

Dr. Hotaling: But it can take longer.

Interviewer: Okay. So, you know, you'll do a test and find out if it was successful and go on from there?

Dr. Hotaling: And then we would repeat it again in three to six months if we didn't show any sperm.

Interviewer: And I would imagine that this type of procedure is something you want to make sure you go to a good doctor, a good surgeon, or a good urologist. You know, what should a man be looking for in a doctor to perform this?

Dr. Hotaling: Yeah. So typically somebody who's done a fellowship in male infertility, which both myself and Dr. Gross here have. We're actually getting another partner, who's starting in September, who's also done a fellowship in male infertility. So you want someone who's fellowship trained. You want someone who does a lot of these. And I think also doing it, you know, in the operating room with the patient asleep, with kind of the best equipment you have, and we sort of tick all those boxes here. Some people do do them in the office with local numbing medication. You know, I don't believe that that's necessarily the best way to do it in my opinion.

Interviewer: So we're looking for someone with a fellowship, someone who's performed the procedure a few times and probably a lot of times, right? And a good center, right?

Dr. Hotaling: Yeah. That's exactly right.

Interviewer: For a patient who is considering getting this procedure done, what is it about say University of Utah Health or maybe another medical center? What is the things that a big center like ours can offer to them with their procedure?

Dr. Hotaling: Yeah. Typically we can also . . . we offer the ability, because we have a full IVF lab and andrology or sperm lab, we can do a little biopsy of the testis at the same time and freeze some of that testicular tissue in case the reversal doesn't work, you know, and you could use that, which saves the patient a significant amount of money because they don't have to have another procedure in case it doesn't work. You want somewhere, you know, that does a lot of them and really has the best equipment.

Interviewer: You were just telling me that you have fellows, you have other . . .

Dr. Hotaling: Mm-hmm. We have other people that we work with. And the surgeons here are still doing the entire surgery, but we have really good assistants. A lot of places, it may be, you know, a surgical technician who's assisting the surgeon, and it really helps to have, you know, great assistants, or if it's a super complicated case, myself and my partner, you know, we'll sometimes do those together.