Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tubal Reversal verus in vitro fertilization (IVF)

The Burning Question

One of the most common questions I get asked both by physicians and by patients around the Southeast is about tubal reversal surgery compared to in vitro fertilization (IVF).

It's easy to understand why there is so much interest. Millions of women have had their tubes tied. Inevitably, if millions of women are opting for "permanent" sterilization, many of them will later regret it.

I could spend a lot of time talking about who is likely to regret this decision. There is good data on that. But I'm not writing this blog entry for women who are trying to decide among different contraceptive options. I'm writing this for the women who find themselves in the unfortunate situation of wanting another child, but their tubes have been surgically blocked, cut, burned, clipped, tied, fried (and/or all of the above).

The bottom line is there are many people who regret their decision and they always ask me the same question: which is better, tubal reversal surgery (reanastamosis) or IVF?

The Universal Answer
One of my mentors drove a lot of residents and fellows crazy when they approached him looking for a quick answer to what they thought was an easy question.

To almost every question, his answer was, "It depends."

Then he'd launch into a 5-10 minute lecture on the pro's and con's and nuances, caveats, hard and fast rules, exceptions to those rules and so on.

I'll try not to do that to you.

If you want the short answer to this question, I'll give it to you and I'll tell you why. Just scroll to the bottom of this blog and read: "The Short Answer." But be warned, you'll miss some good stuff in between.

Critical Questions I Must Know to Answer the Question for You...
For me to know to best advise a patient, there are some absolutely critical questions I need answered.

1) How were her tubes sterilized?
2) How old is she?
3) How many more children does she wish to have?
4) Does her partner have adequate sperm?
5) Does she or her partner have a history of previous infertility?
6) Does she or her partner have any religious barriers to IVF?

Tackling these questions one at a time:

1) How were her tubes sterilized?

In general, the less damage to the tube, the easier the repair. Some methods,
such as the Filshie Clip, or the Fallope Ring create very little damage and
reconnecting these is a lot easier than if the tubes were burned in multiple
locations, or if large segments of the tube were resected. It can be
important for a physician to see the operative report from the tubal
ligation. If a lot of damaged tube has to be removed and there is not much
to put back together, the chances of success are much lower. In general, a
minimum of 4 cm of tube is required at the conclusion of the reanastomosis
to have a legitimate shot at getting pregnant.

2) How old is she?

Older women, especially in their forties, have less time to conceive and
their monthly pregnancy rates are much lower than younger women. After age 37, monthly fertility rates begin to drop rapidly. There are women at age 37 who get their tubes reversed, but if they have not had a baby in one year, then their chances of conceiving at age 38 are significantly lower. Each 6 months to a year, fertility wanes. For good prognosis patients, a single cycle of IVF is generally as successful as trying to conceive for one year on your own. In other words, you can pack a year's worth of treatment into two months.

Even for young women, ovarian reserve testing should be considered. This testing can tell you if your eggs are behaving their age, or
like a much older woman.

3) How many more children does she wish to have?

A young woman who wants to have several more children spaced out over several years may be the best candidate for tubal ligation reversal. When she's not trying to get pregnant, she'll need to use some kind of birth control, but this can stop when she's ready to try again.

On the other hand, a woman who wants only one child, or the older woman who wants more than one child may be a better candidate for IVF. If she only want one child, we can limit the number of embryos we place in the uterus. In some cases, we only place one embryo in the uterus. Once she delivers her baby, she still has her sterilization in place.

Finally, the older woman who wants more than one child may do best with IVF. In her case, we can be a little more aggressive about the number of embryos we place in the uterus, assuming she is willing chance the pregnancy will be twins. Also, if she gets pregnant and
delivers a single child, she may have embryos that we were able to
freeze. Months later, after birth, after she finishes breast feeding and
gets through the sleep deprivation of having a newborn, she can return
to clinic and use the embryos that are in storage. She will have
virtually the same chance of conceiving as she did when she was a
younger age.

4) Does her partner have adequate sperm?

A lot of centers which specialize in tubal ligation reversals do not require a
semen analysis of the male partner. I will acknowledge that in most cases, the male partner will have adequate sperm, but on numerous occasions, shortly before tubal surgery, I have found that the male partner's sample was wholly inadequate. Surgery would have put those women at unnecessary risk, with little hope of achieving pregnancy.
If a physician does not offer or recommend a semen analysis be performed, I would be suspicious that he or she was not acting in my best interest.

5) Does either partner have a prior history of infertility?
If so, I would carefully consider your choice. In these cases spontaneous
pregnancy is much less likely and IVF would be favored.
6) Does she have religious barriers to IVF?

If so, tubal ligation should be preferred.

So who should you seek for advice?

The best people to talk to are physicians who perform both procedures. They are less likely to sway you toward one over the other. They will also try to put the statistics into real clinical context to help you understand what you're getting for your time, effort and money.

From them, you should get truthful statistics about real results. If you looked at a graph of how many pregnancies occur after tubal ligation reversal compared to IVF, you would probably run straight to surgery and have your tubes reversed - because in every age group, far more pregnancies are achieved per reversal than per IVF cycle (according to nationwide IVF statistics).

But not so fast! If you look a little closer, you'll notice the live birth rate only barely favors tubal reversal over the average national IVF success rate.

First, what happened to all of those extra pregnancies? Many of these tubal reversal pregnancies are located in the tube.

Another reason live birth rates are similar between tubal reversal and IVF is this: the statistical deck is stacked in favor of tubal reversal. That's because many tubal reversal clinics compare their success rates to "average national IVF success rates."

This is NOT a fair comparison.

Tubal reversal patients are the best prognosis patients for conception. To compare these patients to ALL IVF patients is like comparing apples to Orangutans.

Most IVF patients do not have proven fertility and voluntary sterility like tubal reversal patients do; most have multiple other more-serious fertility problems.

If you randomised these best prognosis patients to tubal reversal versus IVF, you would almost certainly see significantly higher live birth rates from IVF, with a much lower risk of tubal pregnancy.

The Short Answer

Ok, I promised you a short answer. If you've read this far, you're probably going to think I'm just going to recommend IVF, but I'm not going to do that. See which category you are in, and this is generally what I would advise.

1) Money is scarce and you can find a cheap tubal reversal and you're willing to sacrifice some chance of success - go with tubal reversal.
2) If you have religious conflicts with IVF - go with tubal reversal.
3) If you are a young woman who wants several more children spread out over a number of years - go with tubal reversal.
4) If you want to get pregnant but don't want to have to use future contraception - go with IVF.
5) If you want just one child - go with IVF.
6) If you're older and want several more children - go with IVF.
7) If you want the highest chance of pregnancy, period - go with IVF.


I hope this was simple enough. There are some details, some pros and cons of each choice that I have left out of this blog post. For any individual patient, there may be additional testing I'd recommend. I didn't discuss all the risks associated with each procedure, either.

If you have questions regarding which treatment is right for you, come see us. Dr. Scotchie and I will try to help you find it.


  1. very nice information you have shared with us..
    i am really impressed to see that you have lot of information about Tubal Reversal.
    Thanks for sharing

  2. Thank you for providing such a valuable information and thanks for sharing this matter.
    tubal reversal