How effective is gender reassignment treatment in curing or alleviating gender dysphoria? Does it work? We know from the stories of detransitioners that gender reassignment treatment was not effective in alleviating their underlying psychological problems, trauma or other co-morbidities and in some cases even increased dysphoria.
If medical professionals are too quick to diagnose gender dysphoria and recommend immediate cross-sex hormone therapy and irreversible reassignment surgery, the coexisting issues may remain undiagnosed and untreated.
The only long-term follow-up study of people undergoing sex reassignment surgery suggests that it is not the simple solution we are lead to believe. In particular, it may not be the ‘cure’ for suicidal ideation which is stressed to parents as the reason they must allow their children to start gender reassignment treatment.
Note: Although widely known as gender reassignment treatments, the more accurate term is sex reassignment as all treatments seek to change biological sex characteristics.
Long-Term Follow-Up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery
Cohort Study in Sweden (2011)
“Conclusion: Persons with transsexualism, after sex reassignment, have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population. Our findings suggest that sex reassignment, although alleviating gender dysphoria, may not suffice as treatment for transsexualism, and should inspire improved psychiatric and somatic care after sex reassignment for this patient group.”
A small recent short-term study of the Lebanese transgender population confirms these findings:
Psychiatric comorbidities in transsexualism: Study of a Lebanese transgender population (2016)
“The question of whether gender dysphoria is associated with psychiatric comorbidity has been addressed in several studies. Several cohort studies have shown that psychiatric comorbidity is one of the main features of poor prognosis following sex change therapy. Gender dysphoria is rare, with an estimated prevalence of 0.001% to 0.002% globally. The literature shows a high prevalence of psychiatric comorbidities in people with gender dysphoria, and that they are more common in male to female transsexuals. Data on long-term mortality show that transsexuals present a 51 % increase in mortality compared to the general population. This is mainly attributed to a six-fold increase in the number of suicides and a higher rate of psychiatric disorders and risky behaviors leading to HIV infection and substance abuse.”
Studies on Sex Reassignment Treatments
This is the various research which has been done on the short-term outcomes of gender reassignment treatments. Note: there is no research on the long-term health effects of puberty blockers and hormones used on children. The information on this page is sparse because the clinical research trials on the effects of treatments on children have simply not been done.
Bone Mass in Young Adulthood Following Puberty Blockers and Cross-Sex Hormone Treatment in Adolescents With Gender Dysphoria (2014)
Results: Bone Mass Density (BMD) in transwomen decreased significantly from −0.8 to −1.4 and in transmen there was a trend for decrease from 0.2 to −0.3. Effects of the treatment in later life: Not Known.
GNRH analog therapy in girls with early puberty is associated with the achievement of predicted final height but also with increased risk of polycystic ovary syndrome (2010)
Conclusion: In girls with early puberty, GNRHa therapy is associated with the achievement of predicted final height; nevertheless, this treatment seems to act as an independent risk factor for the development of PCOS already during adolescence.
Mitochondrial Impairment and Oxidative Stress in Leukocytes after Testosterone Administration to Female‐To‐Male Transsexuals (2014)
“Treatment of FtMs with T can induce impairment of mitochondrial function and a state of oxidative stress. This effect should be taken into account in order to modulate possible comorbidities in these patients.”
(Mitochondria are known as the powerhouses of the cell. They are organelles that act like a digestive system which takes in nutrients, breaks them down, and creates energy rich molecules for the cell. Many of the reactions involved in cellular respiration happen in the mitochondria. Mitochondria are the working organelles that keep the cell full of energy. Oxidative stress is essentially an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants.)
Phalloplasty: The dream and the reality (2013)
“Complications encountered in this reconstructive effort include flap failure, urethral fistula, urethral stricture and stiffener related problems.”
Long-term outcome of forearm flee-flap phalloplasty in the treatment of transsexualism (2008)
Conclusion: Phalloplasty with a forearm free-flap leads to good results in term of flap survival and patient satisfaction. However, there was a high rate of complications. Patients must be clearly informed that the procedure can seldom be achieved in one stage.
Effect of sex steroid use on cardiovascular risk in transsexual individuals: a systematic review and meta-analyses
Clinical Endocrinology (2009)
Conclusions: Very low quality evidence, downgraded due to methodological limitations of included studies, imprecision and heterogeneity, suggests that cross-sex hormone therapies increase serum triglycerides in MF and FM and have a trivial effect on HDL-cholesterol and systolic blood pressure in FM. Data about patient important outcomes are sparse and inconclusive.
Potential Side-Effects of Treatments
Health Consequences of Chest Binding
McClean Clinic information (2014)
Compressed or broken ribs, punctured or collapsed lungs, back pain, compression of the spine, damaged breast tissue, damaged blood vessels, blood clots, inflamed ribs and heart attacks.
Health Impact Of Chest Binding Among Transgender Adults: A Community-Engaged Cross-Sectional Study
Culture, Health and Sexuality: An International Journal For Research, Intervention and Care, Oct 2015
“Of participants, 51.5% reported daily binding. Over 97% reported at least one of 28 negative outcomes attributed to binding. Frequency (days/week) was consistently associated with negative outcomes (22/28 outcomes).”
Side-Effect Risks of Lupron (most-prescribed brand of GNRH analog, or puberty blocker)
- Joint disorder/pain
- Weight changes
- Hepato-biliary disorders
- Interstitial lung disease
Potential Side-Effects of Testosterone Hormone Treatment on Girls
Testosterone treatment on girls effectively produces an early menopause. The result of taking puberty blockers followed by testosterone treatment is infertility. The use of testosterone on girls and women is NOT FDA-approved. Testosterone products are FDA-approved only for use in men who lack or have low testosterone levels in conjunction with an associated medical condition.
Potentially the biggest risk for girls is the increase in red blood cells on a female body with a smaller cardiovascular system: women biologically have smaller hearts, vessels and arteries than men, so the known side-effect of blood-clotting is potentially a far greater risk for women.
Masculinising Hormone Information
Gender Centre, Australia Fact Sheet (2014)
Irreversible changes after testosterone hormone therapy:
deepening of the voice;
growth of facial and body hair;
male pattern baldness (in some individuals);
enlargement of the clitoris;
growth spurt if given before the end of puberty; and
possible shrinking and/or softening of breasts (due to fat deposit redistribution)
Risks and side effects include:
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea
Increased Red Blood Cells
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Suppression of Clotting Factors
High Blood Pressure
Can affect existing Mental Health issues
The long-term safety of testosterone is not fully understood. Most of the studies on hormone therapy involve non-trans men taking testosterone at different doses than F.T.M.s usually use, and F.T.M. bodies are not exactly the same as non-trans men’s bodies. There may be long-term risks that are not yet known.
Informed Consent For Testosterone Therapy
This standard Informed Consent form adds changes in brain structures and changes in emotions and moods to the list above, along with the admission that the outcomes of treatment are impossible to predict and an idea of the amount of health monitoring these patients will need to undergo for life.