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Gender dysphoria

A person with gender dysphoria will feel they belong to the wrong gender. This can cause some distress or discomfort.

While biological or physical gender is determined by having male or female sex organs, gender identity is the sex the person feels they are.

What causes gender dysphoria?

The exact cause of gender dysphoria is not known, but several theories exist. These theories suggest that the disorder may be caused by genetic (chromosomal) abnormalities, hormone imbalances during foetal and childhood development, defects in normal human bonding and child rearing, or a combination of these factors.

How common is gender dysphoria?

Gender dysphoria is a rare condition that affects children and adults. It can be evident in early childhood. In fact, most people recognise that they have a gender identity problem before they reach adolescence. The condition occurs more often in males than females.

What are the symptoms of gender dysphoria?

Children with gender dysphoria often display the following symptoms:

  • Expressed desire to be the opposite sex (including passing oneself off as the opposite sex and calling oneself by an opposite sex name)
  • Disgust with their own genitals (boys may pretend not to have a penis. Girls may fear growing breasts and menstruating and may refuse to sit when urinating. They also may bind their breasts to make them less noticeable)
  • Belief that they will grow up to become the opposite sex
  • Rejection by their peer groups
  • Dressing and behaving in a manner typical of the opposite sex (for example, a girl wearing boy's underwear)
  • Withdrawal from social interaction and activity
  • Feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety

Adults with gender dysphoria often display the following symptoms:

  • Desire to live as a person of the opposite sex
  • Desire to be rid of their own genitals
  • Dressing and behaving in a manner typical of the opposite sex
  • Withdrawal from social interaction and activity
  • Feelings of isolation, depression and anxiety

How is gender dysphoria diagnosed?

Gender dysphoria typically is diagnosed by a trained mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. A thorough medical history and a psychological examination are carried out to rule out other possible causes for the symptoms, such as depression, anxiety or psychosis. Gender dysphoria is diagnosed when the evaluation confirms the persistent desire to be the opposite sex.

How is gender dysphoria treated?

Individual and family counselling usually is recommended to treat children with gender dysphoria. Counselling focuses on treating the associated problems of depression and anxiety, and on improving self-esteem. Therapy also aims to help the individual function as well as possible within his or her biological gender.

Counselling is recommended for adults, as is involvement in a support group. Some transsexual adults request hormone and surgical treatments to suppress their biological sex characteristics and to achieve those of the opposite sex. The surgical alteration of a person's sex is called gender reassignment surgery (sometimes referred to as a "sex change" operation). Because this surgery is major and irreversible, candidates for surgery must undergo an extensive evaluation and transition period.

What are the complications of gender dysphoria?

If not addressed, the condition can cause a poor self-image, social isolation and emotional distress. Untreated, the condition can also cause severe depression and anxiety, and can interfere with an individual's ability to function, leading to problems in school or work, or with developing relationships.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 16, 2014

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