Post-vasectomy pain syndrome
Post-vasectomy pain syndrome (PVPS) is a chronic and sometimes debilitating genital pain condition that may develop immediately or several years after vasectomy. Because this condition is a syndrome, there is no single treatment method, therefore efforts focus on mitigating/relieving the individual patient's specific pain. When pain in the epididymides is the primary symptom, post-vasectomy pain syndrome is often described as congestive epididymitis.
A review study in 2017 found that in the United States, 1-2% of vasectomy patients will experience chronic testicular pain for greater than three months after the procedure.
An investigation of peer-reviewed articles published in March 2020 examined 559 articles, performed meta-analysis on 25 separate datasets, and concluded that the incidence of post-vasectomy pain syndrome is 5% (95% CI 3% to 8%) with similar incidence of PVPS for both the scalpel and the no-scalpel technique.
- Persistent pain in the genitalia and/or genital area(s).
- Groin pain upon physical exertion.
- Pain when achieving an erection and/or engaging in sexual intercourse.
- Pain upon ejaculation.
- Loss of erectile function
Any of the aforementioned pain conditions/syndromes can persist for years after vasectomy and affect as many as one in three vasectomized men. The range of PVPS pain can be mild/annoying to the less-likely extreme debilitating pain experienced by a smaller number of sufferers in this group. There is a continuum of pain severity between these two extremes. Pain is thought to be caused by any of the following, either singularly or in combination: testicular backpressure, overfull epididymides, chronic inflammation, fibrosis, sperm granulomas, and nerve entrapment. Pain can be present continuously in the form of orchialgia and/or congestive epididymitis or it can be situational, such as pain during intercourse, ejaculation or physical exertion.
Mechanisms of pain
There is a noticeable enlargement of the epididymides in vasectomized men. This is probably due to increased backpressure within the vas deferens on the testicular side following its blockage by vasectomy. The efferent ducts and seminiferous tubules of the testes are also affected by backpressure, leading to an increase in area and thickness. Backpressure from blockage of the vas deferens causes a rupture in the epididymis, called an "epididymal blowout", in 50% of vasectomy patients. Sperm sometimes leak from the vas deferens of vasectomized men, forming lesions in the scrotum known as sperm granulomas. Some sperm granulomas can be painful. The presence of a sperm granuloma at the vasectomy site prevents epididymal pressure build-up, perforation, and the formation of an epididymal sperm granuloma. It thus lessens the likelihood of epididymal discomfort.
As part of the reaction of the body to the surgical wounds of vasectomy, the body produces hard scar-like tissue. Clamping the vas deferens can produce muscle disruption and fibrosis. As the diameter of the vas lumen is less than the thickness of the wall, the thick muscle layers can easily become disrupted, leading to sperm accumulation and extravasation. Cysts often form from the fluid that spreads between the muscle layers.
Nerves can become trapped in the fibrous tissue caused by vasectomy. This pain is often heightened during sexual intercourse and ejaculation because, with arousal and ejaculation, muscles elevate the testis. There are several nerves that run parallel to the vas deferens that may be cut or damaged during vasectomy.
One study found that the vas deferens exhibits two periodic forms of electrical activity on an electrovasogram, slow pacesetter potentials and fast action potentials. In vasectomized men, the pacesetter potentials on the testicular side exhibit an irregular rhythm.
One study using ultrasound found that the epididymides of patients suffering from post-vasectomy pain syndrome were enlarged and full of cystic growths.
Treatment depends on the proximate cause. In one study, it was reported that 9 of 13 men who underwent vasectomy reversal in an attempt to relieve post-vasectomy pain syndrome became pain-free, though the followup was only one month in some cases. Another study found that 24 of 32 men had relief after vasectomy reversal.
Nerve entrapment is treated with surgery to free the nerve from the scar tissue, or to cut the nerve. One study reported that denervation of the spermatic cord provided complete relief at the first follow-up visit in 13 of 17 cases, and that the other four patients reported improvement. As nerves may regrow, long-term studies are needed.
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