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Transgender hormone therapy, also sometimes called cross-sex hormone therapy, is a form of hormone therapy in which sex hormones and other hormonal medications are administered to transgender or gender nonconforming individuals for the purpose of more closely aligning their secondary sexual characteristics with their gender identity. This form of hormone therapy is given as one of two types, based on whether the goal of treatment is feminization or masculinization:
Some intersex people may also undergo hormone therapy, either starting in childhood to confirm the sex they were assigned at birth, or later in order to align their sex with their gender identity. Non-binary or genderqueer people may also undergo hormone therapy in order to achieve a desired balance of sex hormones.
The formal requirements for hormone replacement therapy vary widely.
Historically, many health centers required a psychiatric evaluation and/or a letter from a therapist before beginning therapy. Many centers how use an informed consent model that does not require any routine formal psychiatric evaluation but instead focuses on reducing barriers to care by ensuring a person can understand the risks, benefits, alternatives, unknowns, limitations, and risks of no treatment. Some LGBT health organizations (notably Chicago's Howard Brown Health Center and Planned Parenthood) advocate for this type of informed consent model.
The Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People (SOC) require that the patient be referred by a mental health professional who has diagnosed the patient with persistent gender dysphoria. The Standards also require that the patient give informed consent, in other words, that they consent to the treatment after being fully informed of the risks involved.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care, 7th edition, note that both of these approaches to care are appropriate.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) and the Endocrine Society formulated guidelines that created a foundation for health care providers to care for trans-gendered patients .
Feminizing hormone therapy usually includes medication to suppress testosterone production and induce feminization. Types of medication include testosterone blockers, estrogen, and progesterone. Most commonly, 100 to 200 milligrams of spironolactone (Aldactone) daily in divided doses is used to decrease testosterone production. After six to eight weeks of spironolactone therapy, estrogen can be started to further suppress testosterone production and promote feminization. These medications, spironolactone and estrogen, can also be started at the same time depending on a person's preference in consultation with their clinician.
Masculinizing hormone therapy usually includes testosterone to suppress the production of estrogen. Treatment options include oral, parenteral, implant (subcutaneous), and trans-dermal (patches, creams, gels). Dosing is patient specific and is discussed with the physician. The most commonly prescribed methods are intramuscular and subcutaneous injections. This dosing can be weekly or biweekly depending on the individual patient.
|Oral||Testosterone undecanoate||160–240 mg/day|
|Parenteral||Testerone enanthate , cypionate||50– 200 mg/ week|
|Transdermal||Testosterone gel (1%)
|2.5 - 10 g/day
2.5 -7.5 mg/day
Hormone therapy for transgender individuals has been shown in medical literature to be generally safe, when supervised by a qualified medical professional. There are potential risks with hormone treatment that will be monitored through screenings and lab tests such as blood count (hemoglobin), kidney and liver function, blood sugar, potassium and cholesterol. Taking more hormone than directed can lead to serious health problems such as increased risk of cancer, heart attack from thickening of the blood, blood clots, and elevated cholesterol.
Transgender hormone therapy replacement may limit fertility potential. Should a transgender individual choose to undergo sex reassignment surgery, their fertility potential is lost completely. Before starting any treatment, individuals may consider fertility issues and fertility preservation. Options include semen cryopreservation, oocyte cryopreservation, and ovarian tissue cryopreservation.
A study due to be presented at ENDO 2019 (the Endocrine Society's conference) reportedly shows that even after one year of treatment with the hormone testosterone, a transgender man can preserve his fertility potential.
Eligibility is determined using major diagnostic tools such as ICD-10 or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Psychiatric conditions can commonly accompany or present similar to gender incongruence and gender dysphoria. For this reason, patients are assessed using DSM-5 criteria or ICD-10 criteria in addition to screening for psychiatric disorders. The Endocrine Society requires physicians that diagnose gender dysphoria and gender incongruence to be trained in psychiatric disorders with competency in ICD-10 and DSM-5 . The healthcare provider should also obtain a thorough assessment of the patient's mental health and identify potential psychosocial factors that can affect therapy.
For a child to be diagnosed with gender identity disorder of childhood under ICD-10 criteria, they must be pre-pubescent and have intense and persistent distress about being the opposite sex. The distress must be present for at least six months. The child must either:
In addition, the condition must be associated with clinically significant distress or impairment.
Some organizations – but fewer than in the past – require that patients spend a certain period of time living in their desired gender role before starting hormone therapy. This period is sometimes called real-life experience (RLE). The Endocrine Society stated in 2009 that individuals should either have a documented three months of RLE or undergo psychotherapy for a period of time specified by their mental health provider, usually a minimum of three months.
Transgender and gender non-conforming activists, such as Kate Bornstein, have asserted that RLE is psychologically harmful and is a form of "gatekeeping", effectively barring individuals from transitioning for as long as possible, if not permanently.
Some transgender people choose to self-administer hormone replacement medications, often because doctors have too little experience in this area, or because no doctor is available. Others self-administer because their doctor will not prescribe hormones without a letter from a psychotherapist stating that the patient meets the diagnostic criteria and is making an informed decision to transition. Many therapists require at least three months of continuous psychotherapy and/or real-life experience before they will write such a letter. Because many individuals must pay for evaluation and care out-of-pocket, costs can be prohibitive.
Access to medication can be poor even where health care is provided free. In a patient survey conducted by the United Kingdom's National Health Service in 2008, 5% of respondents acknowledged resorting to self-medication, and 46% were dissatisfied with the amount of time it took to receive hormone therapy. The report concluded in part: "The NHS must provide a service that is easy to access so that vulnerable patients do not feel forced to turn to DIY remedies such as buying drugs online with all the risks that entails. Patients must be able to access professional help and advice so that they can make informed decisions about their care, whether they wish to take the NHS or private route without putting their health and indeed their lives in danger." Self-administration of hormone replacement medications may have untoward health effects and risks.