Category Archives: Hormones

Long-term follow-up of individuals undergoing sex reassignment surgery: Psychiatric morbidity and mortality – Review of Abstract

The authors of the study suggest that gender reassignment surgery may increase psychiatric problems for some people and decrease them for other people.

The study looked at the medical records of 104 people who had sex reassignment surgery in Denmark between 1978 and 2000.

They found that there was no statistically significant difference between the number of psychiatric diagnoses before surgery and after surgery.

In addition, the people who had diagnoses before surgery were different from the people who had diagnoses after surgery. Only 6.7% of the group had a psychiatric diagnosis both before and after surgery while 27.9% of the group had a psychiatric diagnosis before surgery and 22.1% had one afterwards.

According to the authors “this suggests that generally SRS may reduce psychological morbidity for some individuals while increasing it for others.”

The study also found that:

Psychiatric diagnoses were over-represented both before and after surgery (i.e. the group had more psychiatric issues than the general population).

Trans men (born female) had a significantly higher number of psychiatric diagnoses overall; there were no other statistically significant differences between trans men and trans women.

At the same time “significantly more psychiatric diagnoses were found before SRS for those assigned as female at birth.”

10 people had died at an average age of 53.5 years.

Questions for the Future

The most important question is, of course, how can we make sure that SRS does not increase psychiatric problems in the future?

Is it a question of better screening to identify gender dysphoria?

Do people need more support and counseling after surgery?

Should some people transition without getting surgery?

Were poor surgical outcomes linked to psychiatric problems?

Could low hormone levels after surgery cause problems for some people?

Were people’s problems caused by the surgery or some other aspect of transition that happened after surgery?

Or to put it another way, how do we identify which people might benefit from surgery and which might be hurt by it? or do we need to make other changes to prevent new psychiatric diagnoses after surgery?

It would also be helpful to know more about the specific psychiatric diagnoses before and after surgery. Are we seeing increases in depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or what?

How did the patients whose mental health improved compare to those whose mental health got worse? Were they older or younger? What were their life circumstances?

What does it mean that trans men had more psychiatric diagnoses before surgery? Was surgery more beneficial for them than for trans women or did trans men just have more psychiatric problems overall?

How long after surgery did people get the new psychiatric diagnoses?

More about the study:

Only the abstract of the study is available online, so it is hard to interpret some of their results.

The abstract gives few further details on their methodology, but a similar study of physical illnesses and death looked at the records of 56 trans women (born male) and 48 trans men (born female). The follow-up period began when people received permission for surgery. The group used in the other study represented 98% of all people who officially had SRS in Denmark from 1978 to 2000.

Original source:

Long-term follow-up of individuals undergoing sex reassignment surgery: Psychiatric morbidity and mortality by Simonsen RK, Giraldi A, Kristensen E, Hald GM in Nord J Psychiatry. 2016;70(4):241-7.

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Effects of different steps in gender reassignment therapy on psychopathology: a prospective study of persons with a gender identity disorder

This study found that hormone therapy reduced symptoms of psychological distress, although surgery had no further effect.

However, this conclusion is undercut by the fact that one person committed suicide during follow-up,* treatment did not reduce the prevalence of suicide attempts, and 17% of the people surveyed after treatment reported suicidal thoughts.

There are also areas where the methodology of the study could be improved.

Finally, the data on the percentages of suicide attempts is confusing. See the end of this review for details on the data.

Summary of the results:

After treatment, patients reported fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression, interpersonal sensitivity, and hostility.

Transition did not reduce the percentage of suicide attempts.

One patient committed suicide during follow-up.*

Transition did not affect patients’ psychosocial well-being, i.e. employment, relationships, number of sexual contacts, drug use, and suicide attempts.

Over 90% of patients said that they were happier and felt better about their body after treatment, but 17% reported that they had suicidal thoughts.

The improvement in psychological symptoms happens after hormone therapy. Surgery did not cause a significant change in psychopathology, although patients reported slightly more symptoms after surgery than after hormone therapy.

When asked, 57.9% of patients said that they experienced the most improvement after hormone therapy, 31.6% experienced the most improvement after surgery, and 10.5% experienced improvement just from being diagnosed.

After treatment, the average scores of psychopathology were similar to the general population.

After hormone therapy, none of the average subscale scores were different from the general population. However, after surgery, the group’s average scores for sleeping problems (p=0.033) and psychoticism (p=0.051) were higher than the general population.

These results raise some important questions.

What can we do to reduce suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal thoughts in transgender people who have transitioned?

Why didn’t the percentage of suicide attempts go down when people were reporting fewer symptoms of depression?

Why didn’t surgery improve the mental well-being of the patients?

There were also a couple of important methodological questions that the authors did not discuss.

Combining the results of different treatments

As often happens, the study lumped together trans men (born female) and trans women (born male). The treatments for trans women and trans men involve different medications and surgeries. It is possible that androgens and estrogens have different effects on mood. Similarly, it might be that some surgeries are more beneficial to mental health than others or that some surgeries are more stressful than others.

The participants in the study were 46 trans women and 11 trans men. The authors do not discuss whether they differed in their mental health symptoms or social well-being. Nor do they give information on the gender of the people who completed the questionnaires at follow-up.

The study does not specify exactly what medications and dosages were used for the hormone therapy. They do not say exactly what surgeries the patients got.

Missing Data

As with many longitudinal studies, they did not have follow-up data on all of the participants due to incomplete questionnaires. In addition, one participant did not complete a questionnaire at the beginning of the study.

Thus, 56 people completed a questionnaire about their mental health before treatment, but only 47 people completed the questionnaire after hormone treatment. The authors then compared the average scores on the baseline questionnaires to the averages on the questionnaires after hormones.

It is possible that this would lead to a bias in the data. For example if depressed people were less likely to complete follow-up questionnaires, the average for the follow-up questionnaires would show fewer symptoms of depression than the average for the initial questionnaires.

The authors do not discuss whether the people who did not complete the questionnaires after hormone therapy were significantly different from those who did.

Leaving suicide out of the results

The person who committed suicide was not included in the study; if they had been it might have distorted the data. Presumably their responses at baseline would have increased the average score for symptoms of depression, but without a follow-up questionnaire for them, symptoms of depression would appear to go down. Leaving them out makes the results clear – symptoms of depression went down among everyone else.

At the same time, without data on the person who committed suicide during follow-up, it is not fully accurate to say that symptoms of depression went down after treatment. For at least one person it doesn’t make sense to talk about symptoms of depression going down.

Suicide during follow-up is part of the results of this study. It is relevant to the question of whether or not people felt better after transition. When someone commits suicide during a study, this needs to be part of the discussion. When did they commit suicide? Were they depressed before transition? Did they regret the surgery? Did they say they were depressed during or after transition?

Not talking about the suicide is disrespectful to the person who died. It leads to possibly false conclusions about the effects of transition. And it stops us from being able to figure out what we can do to prevent future suicides – do we need to give people more therapy before medical treatments? should some people not get surgery? do we need to give people more therapy after surgery?

Back to the questions raised by the study

What can we do to reduce suicide, suicide attempts, and suicidal thoughts in transgender people who have transitioned?

Clearly, medical transition is not enough. It does not prevent suicide, suicide attempts, or suicidal thoughts. It does not even reduce the prevalence of suicide attempts.

As far as I know, this is the only study that has followed a group of people with gender dysphoria during treatment and collected data on suicide attempts.

We need more research to figure out how to prevent suicide and suicide attempts among transgender people after transition. It might also help if we knew more about what was going on in this study.

When exactly were the suicide attempts – after hormones or after surgery? When exactly did the person commit suicide?  Does this reflect regret related to the surgery itself or something else?

Were there any gender differences in the suicide attempts?

Were there any differences in the specific treatments given to the people who attempted suicide? Were there any problems in the outcomes of the treatments?

Did the same people attempt suicide before and after transition?

Did the people who attempted suicide say they were depressed? Had they been diagnosed with mental health issues? Were they getting counseling?

Do we know of things that went wrong in the lives of the people who attempted suicide?

Do some people need more counseling and evaluation before transition? Should we adapt the hormonal doses or surgeries for different people? Do we need to give additional support after transition? Are there alternatives to transition that would better help some people deal with gender dysphoria?

At this point all we know is that we can not rely on medical transition to prevent or reduce suicide attempts among transgender people.

We need to know more.

Why didn’t the percentage of suicide attempts go down when people were reporting fewer symptoms of depression?

The results of this study are somewhat confusing. People reported that their symptoms of depression and psychological distress went down after transition. In addition, the vast majority of people who had transitioned said that they felt better – they were happier (93%), less anxious (81%), more self-confident (79%), and their body-related experience improved (98%). Only 2 people said they were more anxious and 1 less self-confident. Only 2 said that their overall mood was similar.

So why did 7 people (17.6%) report that they had suicidal thoughts? Why were there 4 suicide attempts?

Were the people who had suicidal thoughts so unhappy to start with that an improvement in their mood still left them suicidal? Perhaps they had even more suicidal thoughts before transition – but the prevalence of suicide attempts was not affected by transition.

It’s possible that the group’s average scores for depression are in the normal range while a few individuals are miserable. On the other hand, the group has an above average number of suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts. According to an Emory University website “It is estimated that 3.7% of the U.S. population (8.3 million people) had thoughts of suicide in the past year, with 1.0% of the population (2.3 million people) developing a suicide plan and 0.5% (1 million people) attempting suicide.” In this study, 17.6% of the group reported suicidal thoughts at the moment of follow-up. The suicide attempt percentage was 9.8% at follow-up.

We are looking at a group of people with elevated levels of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts – how does that fit with questionnaires that find a normal level of symptoms of depression?

Are we seeing accurate reports of how people feel? Are people minimizing their problems when they fill out questionnaires after treatment?

The authors of the study do not discuss the apparent contradiction between suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts one the one hand and an improved mood on the other.

The authors do point out that the percentage of suicide attempts at the beginning of the study was lower than in other studies of transgender people. It may be that the participants in this study had fewer problems than most transgender people; for one thing they are a group that is able to access medical care. However, that does not answer the question of why for this particular group of people transition did not change the prevalence of suicide attempts.

We need more research into what is going on here. We need to be able to identify people who may attempt suicide or feel suicidal after transition so we can help them.

Why didn’t surgery improve the mental well-being of the patients?

We don’t know and we need more research to answer this question. However, here are a few possibilities:

Possibility #1 – Return to regular life

In their discussion, the authors suggest that there might be an initial euphoria after beginning hormones that wears off later on. In addition, after surgery, people might be “again confronted with stigma and other burdens.”

In other words, the improvement after hormone therapy is higher than the improvement will be in the end. There is still an improvement later on, but the initial level of euphoria isn’t going to last. If this is true, it would be important information for people who are transitioning so that they don’t have false expectations of what life will be like after transition is complete.

Possibility #2 – Surgery is not the best treatment for everyone

The authors also suggest that further studies should look at exploring the idea that some patients might want hormones without surgery.

It may be that surgery is not the best treatment for everyone with gender dysphoria. Perhaps some people would have been better off with just hormone therapy.

Previous studies have found that about 3% of people who have had genital surgery regret it, so we would expect one or two people out of 50 to regret their surgery. Perhaps they are depressed and this affects the group average.

Possiblity #3 – Effects of surgery

It is also possible that some people had post-surgical depression and that this affected the results.

Perhaps some people were still recovering from surgery and did not feel well (the study included people 1 to 12 months after surgery). In particular, this might lead to the increase in sleeping problems found in the study.

Perhaps some people were dealing with complications of surgery.

Perhaps the hormonal changes after surgery affected people’s moods.

Possibility #4 – People were already happy

On the other hand, perhaps by the time people get surgery, they are already happy due to counseling, hormones, and social transition.

Perhaps if people had been forced to stop with hormone therapy alone, they would have become unhappy.  As the authors point out, it may have made a difference that they knew they were going to be able to get surgery.

Possibility #5 – Surgery doesn’t affect mental health

It may simply be that surgery does not improve mental health. At this point, we do not have proof that it does.

In the end, we just don’t know.

Further studies are needed to determine if surgery is helpful and who should get it. Perhaps the authors of this study can use the data they already have to address this question.

 

* Data on this patient was not included in the study.

Original Source:

Effects of different steps in gender reassignment therapy on psychopathology: a prospective study of persons with a gender identity disorder by Gunter Heylens, Charlotte Verroken, Sanne De Cock, Guy T’Sjoen, Griet De Cuypere in J Sex Med 2014 Jan 28;11(1):119-26. Epub 2013 Dec 28.

 

Questions about the data on suicide attempts:

The authors talk about the prevalence of suicide attempts before and after transition, but they don’t talk about the time periods they are looking at. The authors say that the prevalence of suicide attempts was unchanged, but they don’t explain when the suicide attempts took place before treatment. It makes a big difference if they are comparing three years before transition to three years afterward or if they are comparing a lifetime before transition to the average 3 year follow-up period – a follow-up that took place 1-12 months after surgery.

In addition, the actual data on suicide attempts is confusing. In Table 3, the authors list the prevalence of suicide attempts as 9.4% at presentation and 9.3% at follow-up. However, in their discussion they say the suicide attempt percentages were 10.9% initially and 9.8% at follow-up.

Looking at Table 3,  there were 5 attempts in a group of 54 people which would give a percentage of 9.26%, a number that doesn’t match either of the ones given by the authors. In addition, there were 4 attempts in a group of 42 people which would give 9.52%, another number that doesn’t match.

The percentage they gave at baseline in Table 3 seems to be 5 out of 53 people, while the percentage at follow-up seems to be 4 out of 43. Perhaps one of the 54 people didn’t answer the question on suicide attempts in the first set of questionnaires. But where does the additional person come from in the second set of questionnaires? If they are including the person who committed suicide in the suicide attempts, wouldn’t the number of people used to calculate the percentage before treatment be 54 or 55, not 53?

None of this explains why they would list different numbers in their discussion. Perhaps there were some suicide attempts by the same person that were included in one set of numbers but not the others? The table talks about the prevalence of suicide attempts while the discussion talks about the percentage.

It would have been helpful if they had clarified this.

 

 

Review of: Effects of treating gender dysphoria and anorexia nervosa in a transgender adolescent: Lessons learned

Another case where gender identity is linked to an eating disorder, this time in a trans man (born female).

And, another case where transition did not cure the eating disorder.

In this case a teenager who was being treated for his eating disorder requested therapy for gender dysphoria. His weight had already been restored, although he was still getting therapy for the eating disorder.

After counseling for gender dysphoria, the patient took testosterone and openly identified as a man. His anxiety improved, he had more friends, and he had his first girlfriend. Five months later, he had a bilateral mastectomy.

Ten months after surgery, the patient returned to the eating clinic for help. He said that his relapse began after his surgery and got worse when he returned to normal activity.

It is important to note that six months after surgery, the patient’s weight was normal and he felt better about his appearance. However, his eating patterns do not seem to have been discussed.

The patient had not continued counseling after surgery.

There are not many details on the patient’s gender dysphoria in this case study, but there does seem to be a connection between his eating disorder and his gender dysphoria. The patient “disclosed to his family that he felt like ‘a boy in a girl’s body’ and later acknowledged that his eating disorder was related to a desire to get rid of feminine features—’I dislike my curves, my breasts, my hips, my face. I wish I had more defined muscles in my arms and a more angular face.'”

It is worth noting, however, that the patient had two cousins with eating disorders. Genetics and environment were probably also factors in his eating disorder.

The authors make a number of important points about this case in their discussion.

We don’t know if medical transition helps with eating disorders.

“Studies show that medical interventions, including both hormone therapy and surgery, improve gender dysphoria. Their effects on disordered eating in patients with gender dysphoria, however, are less clear.”

On the one hand, in one qualitative study, a trans man who had had breast reduction surgery said it helped with his eating issues. In addition, another study found that patients who had had gender reassignment surgery had less body uneasiness than patients who had not or patients with eating disorders. It is not clear to me that this last study is relevant to patients with both gender dysphoria and eating disorders.

On the other hand,

“In our patient, although he experienced considerable improvement in body image, anxiety, and social functioning following treatment for gender dysphoria, he experienced a relapse in eating disorder behaviors postoperatively. Other case reports in adults describe similar relapses in disordered eating following medical treatment for gender dysphoria.* These cases suggest that, while GCS and other medical interventions often reduce psychological distress related to gender dysphoria, additional therapies may be required to ensure long-term resolution of disordered eating. Eating disorders have high rates of chronicity as well as relapse, particularly during periods of stress and life change. It is therefore crucial to engage all patients with gender dysphoria, regardless of their stage in treatment, in open conversations about eating patterns, body image, and thought processes.”

Urgent needs have to be taken care of first.

Treatment for patients with both eating disorders and gender dysphoria needs to be integrated and hierarchical; life threatening issues have top priority. In other words, you may have to eat before you can transition.

“Eating disorder treatment is complex given the combination of medical, psychological, and nutritional needs. Patients with gender dysphoria also have distinct needs related to gender incongruity. Using a hierarchical approach is one method to help focus therapy and ensure that all needs receive attention when appropriate. Life-threatening issues, such as vital sign instability from nutritional insufficiency or suicidality, should have first priority. These issues frequently require hospitalization to initiate nutritional rehabilitation and psychiatric care in a monitored environment. Following medical and psychiatric stabilization, weight restoration can often continue in the outpatient setting with multidisciplinary support from physicians, therapists, dietitians, and when possible, family members. Throughout treatment, the eating disorder team should strive to create a safe environment for the patient to explore the sources of his or her disordered eating, providing the opportunity to recognize or reveal any underlying issues. For patients with known gender dysphoria, the eating disorder team can assist by affirming the patient’s gender identity, allowing him or her to explore different options for expressing that identity, and providing resources for specialized care.”

Trans men’s eating disorders may look different from the norm.

Trans men may have different goals from other patients with eating disorders; patients with anorexia typically wish to be thin. Trans men may be trying to eliminate their period or reduce their curves as in this case and in this Turkish case study. The trans man in this study did not care about his weight, but was very dissatisfied with his body. It is important that these patients’ eating disorders not be missed because they are atypical. As the authors say,

“While the goals of weight loss in MtF patients often align with those of cisgender eating disorder patients, the goals of weight loss in FtM patients often diverge from those of cisgender patients, potentially limiting the utility of current eating disorder questionnaires in this population.”

We need to keep track of eating disorders after transition.

We can’t assume that a patient with an eating disorder will be fine after they are treated for their gender dysphoria. Treatment for the eating disorder needs to be ongoing.

“While improvement in gender dysphoria may lead to some improvement in eating pathology, many patients may benefit from additional support from an eating disorder team, as found for our patient. Further research should explore the success of different types of eating disorder treatment in adolescents with gender dysphoria before, during, and after gender dysphoria treatment.”

Not everyone needs the same treatment for gender dysphoria.

“Treatment for gender dysphoria varies from person to person. For some individuals, dysphoria can be alleviated through psychotherapy alone or combined with non-medical changes in gender expression. For many, gender dysphoria requires hormone therapy, surgery, or both. Adolescents who desire medical treatment later in life can use hormonal treatments to suppress or delay puberty. The Standards of Care of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, however, recommends delaying suppression until the adolescent has reached at least Tanner Stage 2, so that he or she has some experience of his or her assigned sex. Hormone therapy to feminize or masculinize the body can also be started during adolescence, although this therapy should only be used in patients who demonstrate long-lasting or intense gender dysphoria, as the effects are only partially reversible. Surgery, on the other hand, may only be pursued once the patient reaches the age of majority for his or her country. For our patient, hormone therapy began at age 18 years, 10 months after expressing symptoms of gender dysphoria, and mastectomy was performed at age 19 years.”

Comparing eating disorders in transgender teens and adults

The authors also discuss the timeline of this case – i.e. gender dysphoria was diagnosed after the eating disorder. They contrast this with case reports of adults where an eating disorder developed during or after “assuming a transgender identity.” They add that “the only other case report available on adolescent patients describes a similar progression [to this study], with both patients initially presenting with AN and later expressing themselves as transgender.” 

Therefore, they suggest that “disordered eating may be the presenting symptom in some adolescents with gender dysphoria, highlighting the benefit of addressing gender identity in young patients with eating disorders. Gender identity may be addressed either using an intake form or during the patient interview.” (see below)

The situation is a little more complicated. In fact, in this case study a teenager developed an eating disorder when she decided to live as a woman. In addition, this study of an adult mentions that her eating disorder began at age 15 when she decided to live as a woman.

So we have two cases of teenagers who decided to live as women and then developed eating disorders and three cases of teenagers who were diagnosed with gender dysphoria during treatment for eating disorders. We don’t have enough cases to come to any real conclusions about the development of eating disorders and gender dysphoria in teenagers.

In any case, it may be that interviewing teenagers when they enter treatment for eating disorders will not lead to a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. In this case study, one of the teenagers was clear at the beginning of treatment that he was a gay man and did not want to be a woman. His gender dysphoria developed during the treatment of his eating disorder.

As always, we need more research. So far we have case studies of 17 patients. The individual cases vary widely and it’s unclear exactly how gender dysphoria and eating disorders are linked. It does not seem that treating gender dysphoria cures eating disorders, however.

This newest case study demonstrates that transition for gender dysphoria does not cure an eating disorder. It points to a connection between the eating disorder and the desire to be a man, but it also points to a possible contribution from genetic and environmental factors.

Original Source:

Effects of treating gender dysphoria and anorexia nervosa in a transgender adolescent: Lessons learned by Strandjord SE, Ng H, Rome ES in Int J Eat Disord. 2015 Nov;48(7):942-5.

 

*In this case study, one of the trans women had an eating disorder in adolescence that returned many years later after surgery. In this case study, one of the trans women had transitioned but was still severely underweight – although the authors did not seem to think she had an eating disorder. Finally, in this case study, a trans man developed an eating disorder after surgery. He had not had an eating disorder previously.

In addition, there are a number of case studies where patients had eating disorders, although they were on hormones and had socially transitioned.

 

More details from the case study:

The patient had been seeing doctors for a couple of years before he brought up his gender issues.

At age 16 the patient was not getting his period, but his weight was normal and he said he had no body image concerns. The doctors prescribed oral contraceptives.

“The patient returned a year later with 2.3 kg of weight loss, resulting in a body mass index (BMI) of 16.9 kg/m2 (81% expected body weight for females of the same age). CS acknowledged daily exercise and a ‘desire for a different body shape,’ with a ‘more toned and muscular’ appearance. The patient denied food restriction, purging behaviors, or body image distortion and committed to increasing caloric intake to gain weight. Gender identity was not discussed and no treatment was pursued after this visit.

Five months later, CS presented with an additional 4.5 kg weight loss, resulting in a BMI of 14.9 kg/m2 (70% expected body weight). The patient then admitted to food restriction as well as a fear of gaining weight, leading to a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (AN). The clinician did not inquire about underlying motivations for weight loss beyond general body dissatisfaction and anxiety.

There was no significant medical, psychiatric, or surgical history at the time of diagnosis. Family history included two cousins with eating disorders (specific diagnoses unknown). Socially, the patient was a high-achieving student with few peer relationships and no high-risk behaviors.”

At this point, the patient began 9 months of outpatient family-based therapy for anorexia. Four months into this treatment, he requested therapy for gender dysphoria. “He began biweekly individual psychotherapy to explore his gender identity and cognitive behavioral therapy to address ongoing anxiety.”

Ten months later he started to take testosterone and five months after that he had surgery to remove his breasts at age 19.

Medical treatment for gender dysphoria helped the patient significantly with his anxiety. He began to live as a man, expanded his peer relationships, and had his first romantic relationship with a woman.

His weight was stable for six months after surgery and he was more satisfied with his body, but the follow-up does not seem to have included any discussion of his eating (“a detailed discussion of his eating patterns and cognitions was not documented”).

He returned to the clinic four months later to deal with restrictive eating and excessive exercise. His body weight had decreased and his BMI had dropped from 19 kg/m2  to 17.9 kg/m2. He explained that “his relapse began postoperatively due to exercise restrictions and school-related stress, with his behaviors intensifying when he returned to normal activity.”

More details on interviewing patients about gender

The authors offer these sample approaches:

Sample approach on an intake form.
Use a two-step approach to identify both assigned sex and current gender identity.
Assigned sex at birth:
What sex were you assigned at birth, on your original birth certificate? (check one)
□ Male
□ Female
Current gender identity:
How do you describe yourself? (check one)
□ Male
□ Female
□ Transgender
□ Do not identify as male, female, or transgender
Sample approach in an interview.
Frame discussion with an opening statement.
“Because many people are affected by gender issues, I ask all patients if they have any concerns in this area. As with the rest of the visit, what you say will be kept strictly confidential.”
Begin discussion with a broad question(s).
“What questions or concerns do you have about gender, sexuality, or sexual orientation (who you are attracted to)?”
“How do you define your gender?”
“Have you been exploring gender?”

Sample intake form from:

Reisner SL, Conron KJ, Tardiff LA, Jarvi S, Gordon AR, Austin SB. Monitoring the health of transgender and other gender minority populations: Validity of natal sex and gender identity survey items in a U.S. national cohort of young adults. BMC Public Health2014; 14:1224. 

Sample approach for an interview from:

Makadon HJ. Ending LGBT invisibility in health care: The first step in ensuring equitable care. Cleve Clin J Med 2011; 78:220224

Transsexualism and Anorexia Nervosa: A Case Report – Review

This is a somewhat surprising case report of a trans man (born female) who developed anorexia nervosa after sex reassignment surgery.

The 24-year-old patient had surgery to remove his breasts, ovaries, and uterus. Afterwards he began binging and purging. He had not had problems with eating behaviors or weight loss before surgery.

This case is similar to the trans woman (born male) in this study who began to diet excessively after sex reassignment surgery. It is, however, different from this trans man who stopped dieting once he was on hormones and menstruation ceased.

The authors suggest that the eating disorder is an “expression of a gender identity process, or a conflict of an acceptance of one’s own sexuality.”

It is easy to understand why someone with gender dysphoria might dislike their body and develop problems eating, but in this case, the patient had already changed his body.

Why did the eating disorder develop after physical transition was complete?

Had he been focused on changing his body with hormones and surgery and then when he was done, he focused on his shape?

Was his eating disorder a sign of persistent body dissatisfaction no matter what he did?

The authors suggest that the patient’s underlying problems may have caused the eating disorder:

“In this case, there was clearly a linkage between a lack of sense in self-efficacy and a body dissatisfaction that continued after the sex change surgery. Discomfort with her/his own body appeared to be more deeply anchored than just being rooted in the wish to change the physical appearance.”

Alternatively, might the surgery have caused an abrupt shift in hormones that led to an eating disorder? More importantly, could adjusting his hormones help him recover from the eating disorder?

We think of testosterone and estrogen as sex hormones, but they are much more than that. Like all hormones, they are part of a complex system of chemicals that affect each other. Specifically, we know that “sex” hormones also play a role in appetite.

“The sex hormones estrogen, progesterone and androgens are involved in the complex regulation of appetite, eating and energy metabolism. In most species, including man, food intake and reproductive functions are closely linked. Thus, during the different hormonal phases of the menstrual cycle daily food intake varies and, moreover, remarkable physiological adaptations of appetite and body composition occur during pregnancy and lactation. In addition, regulation of eating behaviour and metabolic functions by sex hormones is of considerable general importance for women’s health, as indicated by the disturbances in this regulation associated with a number of clinical disorders.”

From “Sex hormones, appetite and eating behaviour in women.”

In this case study, the patient’s estrogen levels would have dropped significantly after his ovaries were removed. In addition, doctors normally reduce the dose of testosterone after surgery, although to a level typical for a man.

Women eat less during the phase of the menstrual cycle when estrogen levels are high, so it is possible that a drop in estrogen levels would be connected to eating more.

Furthermore, bulimia may be connected with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a syndrome which is characterized by elevated androgen levels.

Testosterone stimulates appetite and high circulating levels of this androgen in women have been associated with impaired impulse control, irritability and depression, i.e., common features of women with bulimia. Accordingly, it has been proposed that elevated levels of androgens may promote bulimic behaviour by influencing craving for food and/or impulse control. Hypothetically, bulimia may, in some cases, have a hormonal, rather than a psychiatric etiology, a suggestion supported by the observation that antiandrogenic treatment reduces bulimic behaviour. This may turn out to be a novel and valuable approach to treating women with BN, particularly those with hyperandrogenic symptoms.

From “Sex hormones, appetite and eating behaviour in women.”

The patient in this case study had symptoms that are typical of bulimia, binging and purging. Perhaps in his case the bulimia was related to the sudden drop in estrogen after surgery coupled with male levels of testosterone.

Most people do not develop eating disorders after sex reassignment surgery. There would have to be other factors involved, possibly genetic or psychological.

We have very little data on eating disorders and gender dysphoria, just a set of case studies.

However, we now have two cases of trans people developing an eating disorder after having surgeries that would have changed their hormones.

In one case, a trans woman began restricting her eating after surgery; in her case the surgery would have decreased her testosterone levels and thus, possibly decreased her appetite.

In this case, a trans man began binging and purging after surgery which would have decreased his estrogen levels and thus, possibly increased his appetite.

We need more research into this question. Do changes in hormones trigger eating disorders in some trans people? Most of all, can we use this to find a way to help trans people with eating disorders?

 

Original Source:

Transsexualism and Anorexia Nervosa: A Case Report by Fernando FernÁndez-Aranda, Josep Maria Peri, Victor Navarro, Anna BadÍa-Casanovas, Vicente TurOacuten-Gil,& Julio Vallejo-ruiloba in Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, Volume 8, Issue 1, 2000 pages 63-66.

 

More details on the patient:

After surgery, the patient had “2-4 weekly binge episodes with daily vomiting and abuse of laxatives and diuretics.”

He was overly concerned with being fat and wished to be thinner so his body shape wouldn’t look female.

He was moderately underweight, but then “during the last six months, he lost more than 15 kg [33 pounds] of body weight through restricting food intake.”

The Eating Attitudes Test, Eating Disorders Inventory, Body Attitudes Test, and Body Shape Questionairre showed “severe eating pathology and negative body experience.”

The patient also had problems with alcohol and drug abuse, self-mutilation, and suicide attempts, but these had begun at age 17.  He was diagnosed with “gender identity disorder, alcohol dependence, anorexia nervosa (purging subtype), major depression (Axis I), and borderline personality disorder (Axis II).

The patient’s father had obsessive-compulsive disorder and one of his sisters had an affective disorder.

As a child, the patient felt like a boy, didn’t play with girls, tried to hide any feminine parts of his silhouette, and hated feminine features of his body.

Gender Identity Disorder and Eating Disorders – a Review

Three more case reports, three different stories. In each case gender dysphoria is related to the eating disorder, but in each case the relationship is different.

In the first case a trans woman (born male) had an eating disorder in adolescence. After sex reassignment surgery, her eating disorder returned.

In the second case, a trans woman developed an eating disorder when she decided to come out and live as a woman. At the time of the case report, she was on hormones and awaiting surgery.

In the third case, a trans man (born female) who had been living as a man had had long periods of being underweight and not menstruating. He denied dieting or caring about his weight, but he was very dissatisfied with his body. He was purging. Unfortunately, he also had alcoholism and had developed liver disease; he was therefore unable to take hormones.

There is no clear relationship here between transition and eating disorders. In one case, transition made the eating disorder worse. In another deciding to transition was linked to the eating disorder, but taking hormones did not cure the eating disorder.

These are, of course, case studies of only three individuals, so we can not draw any conclusions from them. As with other case studies, it seems that each individual is different.

However, for one of the patients, her eating disorder seems to have started when she decided to live as a woman, like the patients in this studythis study and this one. For some trans women, at least eating disorders are linked to gender dysphoria.

In the case of the trans man, his eating disorder went untreated for many years, like the trans man in this case study.

These cases are from a Swiss hospital program for gender identity disorder.

Case 1 – Trans Woman’s Eating Disorder Returns After Surgery

In early childhood, the patient was gender non-conforming and felt that she was a girl. As a teenager, she felt a deep aversion to her genitals and the development of secondary sex characteristics. She avoided swimming because she was ashamed of her body.

In adolescence, the patient was dissatisfied with her body and dieted until she was underweight (BMI=16.9 kg/m²). She held the weight for several months.

She cross-dressed “moderately” starting at age 20. She was distressed during her compulsory military service. She lived with a woman and later married, but was not very interested in sex. Her marriage only lasted 1½ years and after the divorce she decided to transition.

At age 36 she began taking hormones. Sixteen months later she had sex reassignment surgery and her eating disorder returned:

After the operation she again showed an increasing preoccupation with her body weight and shape. Her eating behavior was again restrictive. She still avoids highly caloric food and warm meals. Although her actual BMI is 20.0 kg/m²she feels too fat and seeks an ‘ideal’ body shape. After the first operation there were some complications and she had to undergo several re-operations. She herself wanted an augmentation of her breasts and is considering further cosmetic operations, which can be interpreted as persistent body dissatisfaction. She engages in excessive sporting activity and has repeatedly had minor injuries partly provoked by taking higher risks.

It is not clear why the eating disorder would return after she had surgery. By the time she had surgery, she had been living as a woman for a few years and taking hormones for over a year.*

Did the change in hormones after surgery affect her eating disorder? After surgery, her testosterone levels would have been lower than most cis women’s and low testosterone is linked to eating disorders in both men and women. In addition, for some women, higher levels of estrogen are linked to eating disorders.

Alternatively, did the complications of her surgery trigger a desire to control her body? Or had she been focused on changing her body with hormones and surgery and then when she was done, she focused on her weight? Or was her eating disorder a sign of persistent body dissatisfaction no matter what she did?

Case 2 – Trans Woman Develops Eating Disorder When She Transitions

The second patient had identified as a girl and felt like an outcast since early childhood. Her teachers did not allow her to play with girls’ toys. She started secretly cross-dressing in elementary school. She was suicidal at age 10 and said she wanted to live as a girl.

The physical changes of puberty were very distressing to the patient. She was attracted to men, but did not have any sexual relationships because she was afraid and because she did not want people to think that she was gay.

The patient attempted suicide at age 20 because of her gender dysphoria. After the suicide attempt, she got psychiatric therapy and decided to come out as a woman. She started to dress as a woman in public.

This is when the eating disorder began:

“Before his** coming-out, his body weight was 120 kg and his height was 1.97 m (BMI30.9 kg/m²). After the suicide attempt he started dieting and lost 40 kg of weight within 2 years. The minimal weight was 80 kg (BMI: 20.6 kg/m²). The eating behavior at the beginning was dietary restriction, followed by purging, binge-eating, and self-inducevomiting. He consumed anorectic medication and engaged in excessive sporting activities. The decision to come-out went hand-in-hand with the ambition to attain a more feminine shape by losing weight. He is convinced that his acceptance as a female would depend greatly on an ideal body shape. The patient is currently under hormonal treatment and the surgical reassignment will soon take place.”

Deciding to transition caused this patient to develop an eating disorder as she tried to change her shape. Socially transitioning and taking hormones did not cure her eating disorder.

Case 3 – Trans Man with a Long-standing Eating Disorder

This is a very depressing case.

The patient preferred boys’ games growing up and felt he belonged with the boys. At age 6 he was sent to the school counselor because he refused to play with girls. His breasts caused him distress, but he did not bind them or self-mutilate. He got his period at age 14, but had secondary amenorrhea (no period for six months or more) for many years.

He was attracted to females and had had only female partners. His partners accepted him as male.

He had been living “in the male role” for over 20 years, but had never had any medical treatments for his gender dysphoria. He had refused to take estrogen for his amenorrhea, however.

The patient was underweight when he came to the gender identity clinic and he had been very underweight in the past.

Her** minimal weight at the age of 40 was 33 kg (BMI: 13.5 kg/m²).*** She reported longlasting periods of underweight accompanied by amenorrhea. She denied ever having intended to diet deliberately. She reported no binge-eating or self-induced vomiting, but she was purging. She denied preoccupation with her weight but reported a strong body dissatisfaction.

The authors could not treat her with hormones, however, because of “severe liver disease and the psychic instability and alcohol dependence.”

Although the patient denied it, it might be that he was keeping his weight down in order to avoid having periods.

Social transition did not help this patient with his eating disorder. We can’t know whether or not hormones would have helped him since he was medically unable to take them.

Gender dysphoria is clearly linked to the eating disorders of the two trans women and possibly linked to the trans man’s eating disorder. Transitioning did not cure the trans women’s eating disorders, however. In one case surgery led to the symptoms returning after many years.

Original Source (full text):

Gender Identity Disorder and Eating Disorders by U. Hepp, G. Milos in International Journal of Eating Disorders,12/2002; 32(4):473-8.

 

*In Switzerland at the time of these case studies, trans people had to live as their preferred gender for at least a year before they could get hormones. After at least 6 to 12 months on hormones, they were eligible for surgery.

** The authors of this study refer to the patients by their birth sex unless they have fully and legally transitioned.

*** A BMI under 16 is dangerous, a BMI of 13 is a serious problem.

Review – Diverging Eating Psychopathology in Transgendered Eating Disorder Patients: A Report of Two Cases

These are two somewhat unusual case studies from Singapore. Once again, there is a connection between eating disorders and gender identity. Once again, the connection is different from other case studies.

Case 1 – A Fluid Gender Identity and an Eating Disorder

In the first case, the patient had a fluid gender identity; sometimes he identified as a man and sometimes as a woman.

When he identified as a woman, he restricted his food and exercised excessively. He wanted to be thin and felt a kinship with emaciated women because they were infertile like him.

When he identified as a man, he tried to gain weight and muscles, but his exercise and eating habits were still pathological.

The patient was always distressed and dissatisfied with his body.

In other words, his gender identity affected the form his eating disorder took, but it was probably not the cause of it.

Case 2 – Changing Gender Identity, Changing Eating Patterns

In the second case, the patient identified as a woman when he first sought treatment for his eating disorder. However, after a year of treatment, the patient came out to his friends as gay. They were accepting of his sexual orientation and he became more comfortable with a male gender identity.

Similarly to the first case, when the patient wanted to be a woman, he tried to become thin, using restricted eating, excessive exercise, and purging. However, when he began to identify as a male, he tried to build up his muscles and he ate more.

The authors do not comment on whether or not this patient still disliked his body.

The authors suggest that gender identity influences the form of body psychopathology; constructing your gender identity is linked to constructing your body. However, they do not suggest that gender dysphoria caused the eating disorders or that treating the gender dysphoria will cure them.

These two cases support their theory, but it is important to remember that this is a case study of two people. So far, the main conclusion I can draw from various cases studies is that each person’s story is different.

From the Discussion:

“The present case series describes two transgendered biological males seeking treatment for eating disorders, whose intermittent periods of endorsing both masculine and feminine gender identities impacted significantly upon their experience of eating disorder psychopathology. The two patients indicated that during periods of endorsing a feminine gender identity, they experienced an elevated definite drive for thinness, such that their body image psychopathology was oriented towards weight loss, reporting dietary restriction and cardiovascular exercise to lose weight. Furthermore, both patients reported that during periods of masculine gender identity endorsement, their body image psychopathology was oriented towards weight gain with an emphasis on “buff muscularity,” reporting increased food intake and muscle building exercise regimens.

This case series draws attention to the potential role of masculinity and femininity in body image psychopathology amongst males. Both patients depicted reported that the variation in their eating disorder psychopathology was concordant with their preferred gender identity, suggesting that the construction of one’s gender identity and the construction of one’s body may be interrelated.”

More details on the gender shift in the second case study:

At the beginning of treatment,

“…he reported homosexual sexual orientation and described privately wondering whether he was born into the wrong gender from approximately age 6. He reported periodically ‘trying to like girls’ due to the cultural and legal ramifications of homosexuality in his country of origin [probably China], and further stated that on many occasions his sexual orientation resulted in him feeling victimized and bullied. Patient Z reported significant discomfort with his sexual orientation, although he did report a female gender identity, which allowed him to experience his secretive same sex relationships as heterosexual given his assumed female identity.”

Before treatment, when he was restricting his food and purging,

“Patient Z reported immense discomfort surrounding his emerging sexual orientation, and reported strongly endorsing a female identity which enabled Patient Z to experience his same-sex attraction as heterosexual, alleviating the subjective distress and internal conflict he experienced in his homosexual urges. Patient Z described his role models to be female supermodels, stating that he aspired to their thin and feminine frames, adding that his gaunt appearance brought about by dietary restriction ‘accentuated his cheekbones’ and helped him identify with his female role models. Patient Z reported egosynotonicity of eating disorder symptomatology, allowing him to feel ‘small and more like a woman’ which he demonstrated in a collection of drawings depicting emaciated women, which he described as his ideal body.”

But then,

“Approximately 12 months into treatment Patent Z revealed his sexuality to his friends, whose acceptance and support reportedly alleviated the internal conflict he experienced around his same-sex attraction. As a result Patient Z reported reduced ambiguity surrounding his gender identity, describing more comfort in identifying with a male gender identity. During this same period, Patient Z developed a desire for muscular development as opposed to emaciation, and started a muscle building training regimen. Furthermore, this period was also characterized by Patient Z consuming greater quantities of food in support of his desire for greater muscularity.”

Original Source:

Diverging Eating Psychopathology in Transgendered Eating Disorder Patients: A Report of Two Cases by Murray SB, Boon E, Touyz SW in Eat Disord. 2013;21(1):70-4.

Review: Treatment of anorexia nervosa in the context of transsexuality: A case report

This is a depressing study. The main conclusion I get from it is that we need a better health care system.

The patient in this case is a 19 year-old American trans woman (born male) who developed a severe eating disorder when she decided to dress and live as a woman.

She became malnourished and ill and was hospitalized. During her treatment, she became upset as she gained weight and was afraid she would look masculine. She said she would be willing to gain a healthy amount if it would be on her hips and breasts.

When her testosterone levels returned to normal, hair began growing on her face and legs again. The patient began to exercise secretly and stopped gaining weight.

The hospital discussed gender transition with her, including the risks of treatment. She agreed to try hormone blockers and was given a three month dose of leuprolide. She was also given the androgen blocker spironolactone. After this, the patient progressed well and gained enough weight to leave the hospital.

During follow-up, the patient continued to gain weight until she began working. She lost weight while working, but was able to stabilize her weight with the help of a dietitian.

The patient was referred to an endocrinologist and a center for transgender youth for estrogen therapy and gender transition. She lost her health insurance coverage and could not afford to follow-up with transition.

Short-term hormone therapy helped this trans woman to recover from an eating disorder that made her seriously ill, but it’s unclear what will happen to her without health insurance.

It is important to remember that this is just a case study. This is only one individual; the relationship between eating disorders and gender dysphoria is complicated. We can only come to limited conclusions from any one person’s story.

I will be reviewing more case studies of eating disorders and gender dysphoria. At this point, the main conclusion I can draw is that each case is individual.

The hormone treatment in this case was not the standard cross-sex hormone treatment for people with gender dysphoria. We can not, therefore, draw conclusions about the standard hormonal treatment for trans women.

In addition, the hormone treatment the patient received in this case would not work for everyone. Leuprolide can decrease bone density which may be a problem for malnourished patients with eating disorders. In this case the doctors decided that it would be only used for a short time and the benefits outweighed the risks.

The doctors speculate about the possibility that the androgen blockers caused the patient to gain weight under the skin rather than at the belly and that this may have made her look more feminine.

It is also possible that leuprolide itself had an effect on the eating disorder. Leuprolide is a puberty blocker and eating disorders develop at puberty; perhaps when you block puberty, you block something that causes disordered eating. For example, estrogen may play a role in eating disorders and leuprolide blocks estrogen as well as testosterone.

The bottom line is that this trans woman developed a life-threatening eating disorder when she decided to live as a woman. During recovery she was distressed by the idea of looking more masculine as she regained a healthy weight. Puberty blockers and androgen blockers helped her to regain a healthy weight. Her weight was stable at follow-up, but she lost her health insurance and it is unclear what will happen to her.

More from the authors’ discussion of the case:

“Because her identity as TS [transsexual] and desire to appear more feminine were inextricable from her disordered eating, we felt that her recovery from her ED [eating disorder] would be aided by supporting her gender transition. After consulting the Endocrine Society Guidelines on Treatment of Transsexual Persons and discussing treatment possibilities with experts in transsexual youth, medical treatment options included cross-hormone (i.e., estrogen) therapy (which would also suppress testosterone release) and/or suppression of testosterone with GnRH agonists with or without the use of spironolactone as an antiandrogen agent. Treatment with cross-hormone therapy requires close follow-up with an endocrinologist familiar with this treatment; the children’s hospital to which DS was admitted is not a site experienced in cross-hormone therapy for transsexual youth. For this reason, GnRH agonist therapy with spironolactone was chosen to suppress testosterone at the level of the pituitary and delay resurgence of testosterone-related changes until the patient could access appropriate TS medical care and follow-up.

To our knowledge, there are no studies describing the patterns of weight gain in TS patients who receive antiandrogens in comparison to those who do not. However, studies of antiandrogen use for other medical conditions have shown that patients receiving antiandrogens tend to gain subcutaneous adiposity, as opposed to primarily intra-abdominal adiposity gained by patients not on antiandrogens. One could theorize that this subcutaneous pattern of weight gain would be more tolerable to MtF transsexual patients who strive for a more feminine appearance, which would support the use of GnRH agonists in these patients. This is an interesting area for future inquiry.

Possible adverse effects of GnRH agonists include decrease in bone density. This is of particular concern in malnourished patients, as malnutrition alone can adversely affect bone density. This potential drawback of GnRH therapy for DS was discussed at length as a team, and it was determined that the benefits of GnRH use outweighed the risks for two primary reasons: (1) the expected duration of GnRH therapy was brief, as it was being used as a bridge to initiation of cross-hormone therapy; and (2) suppression of DS’s testosterone level would likely facilitate her willingness to achieve weight restoration. In studies of malnourished patients with low bone density, weight restoration is the most important factor in improving bone density. Spironolactone was added to DS’s therapy regimen for additional anti-androgen effects. This medical plan enabled DS to continue to improve her nutritional status while avoiding the unwanted increase in testosterone and consequent physical changes.”

Original Source:

Treatment of anorexia nervosa in the context of transsexuality: A case report by Ewan LA, Middleman AB, Feldmann J. in Int J Eat Disord. 2014 Jan;47(1):112-5.