Worldwide, sterilization (tubal sterilization and vasectomy) is used by more people than any other method of contraception. All techniques of tubal sterilization in widespread use in the United States have low risks of surgical complications. Although tubal sterilization is highly effective, the risk of pregnancy varies by age and method of occlusion. Pregnancies can occur many years after the procedure, and when they do, the risk of ectopic gestation is high. There is now strong evidence against the existence of a post–tubal ligation syndrome of menstrual abnormalities. Although women who have undergone tubal sterilization are more likely than other women to undergo hysterectomy subsequently, there is no known biologic basis for this relationship. Although sterilization is intended to be permanent, expressions of regret and requests for reversal are not uncommon and are much more likely to occur among women sterilized at young ages. Tubal sterilization has little or no effect on sexual function for most women. Vasectomy is less likely than tubal sterilization to result in serious complications. Minor complications, however, are not uncommon. Vasectomy does not increase the risk of heart disease, and available evidence argues against an increase in the risk of prostate cancer, testicular cancer, or overall mortality. Whether a postvasectomy pain syndrome exists remains controversial. Although the long-term effectiveness of vasectomy is less well-studied than that for tubal sterilization, it seems likely to be at least as effective. Intrauterine devices and progestin implants are long-acting, highly effective alternatives to sterilization.
Tubal sterilization is highly effective and has low surgical risk and few late sequelae; it is intended to be permanent, but later regret is not uncommon.
From the Department of Maternal and Child Health, School of Public Health, and Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Corresponding author: Herbert B. Peterson, MD, Professor and Chairman, Department of Maternal and Child Health, School of Public Health, Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina, CB #7445 Rosenau Hall, Chapel Hill NC 27599-7445; e-mail: Herbert_Peterson@unc.edu.
Financial Disclosure The author has no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.
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