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, 4 (1), 19-29

Hormonal Therapies for Individuals With Intersex Conditions: Protocol for Use


Hormonal Therapies for Individuals With Intersex Conditions: Protocol for Use

Garry L Warne et al. Treat Endocrinol.


Hormonal therapy forms part of the treatment of every intersex condition. For some conditions, such as salt-wasting congenital adrenal hyperplasia, hormonal replacement therapy is life saving because hormones necessary for survival (cortisol and aldosterone) are replaced. In contrast, other hormones such as androgens or mineralocorticoids are secreted in excessive amounts in congenital adrenal hyperplasia due to an enzyme imbalance, and the role of hormonal therapy is to suppress the unwanted hormone excess by exerting negative feedback. For patients with one of the many causes of hypogonadism, sex hormone replacement therapy may be prescribed to stimulate sexual development: growth of a hypoplastic penis in a young boy, pubertal changes (male or female), psychosexual development, and adult sexual behavior. It has equally important and highly beneficial effects on bone mineral density. Hormonal therapy is also used to treat the unborn child. For the last 20 years, prenatal dexamethasone treatment administered to the pregnant woman has been used to prevent the development of ambiguous genitalia in females with 21-hydroxylase deficiency. Outcome studies show this treatment to be well tolerated and, in general, efficacious. Intersex conditions are, however, difficult to treat because they may intrinsically perturb complex aspects of the person's gender identity, gender-role behavior, sexual orientation, sexual functioning, and psychologic adjustment. Furthermore, decisions made about the sex of an infant by doctors and parents do not always turn out to be correct; the person may grow up feeling uncertain about his or her gender identity, or worse still, harbor a sense of outrage about their life and treatment experiences. Such a person will have definite views about hormonal therapy when the time comes and skillful counseling will be needed. A vigorous debate about ethical aspects of current medical practices relating to intersex conditions has been waged for the last 7 years between certain patient advocacy organizations and the medical profession, and is expected to continue for some time. The quality of the debate will be improved by evidence. The results of a number of long-term follow-up studies have been published, and more are expected. The published studies show mixed, but mainly encouraging, results.

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