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What Are the Latest Guidelines for Transgender Health Care?

  • Authors: News Author: Lisa Nainggolan; CME Author: Laurie Barclay, MD
  • CME / ABIM MOC / CE Released: 11/11/2022
  • Valid for credit through: 11/11/2023, 11:59 PM EST
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  • Credits Available

    Physicians - maximum of 0.25 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit(s)™

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Target Audience and Goal Statement

This activity is intended for diabetologists/endocrinologists, family medicine/primary care physicians, pediatricians, internists, plastic surgeons, psychiatrists, nurses/nurse practitioners, pharmacists, physician assistants, adolescent medicine physicians, metabolism physicians, and other members of the healthcare team for transgender patients.

The goal of this activity is for learners, members of the healthcare team to be better able to describe clinical guidance to assist transgender and gender-diverse (TGD) persons in accessing safe and effective pathways to achieve lasting personal comfort with their gendered selves, with the aim to optimize their overall physical health, psychological well-being, and self-fulfillment, according to the latest standards of care from the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH).

Upon completion of this activity, participants will:

  • Describe guidance for managing TGD adolescents, according to a new chapter from WPATH SOC8
  • Determine overall guidance regarding consideration of GAMST for TGD persons, according to WPATH SOC8
  • Outline implications for the healthcare team


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News Author

  • Lisa Nainggolan


    Lisa Nainggolan has no relevant financial relationships.

CME Author

  • Laurie Barclay, MD

    Freelance writer and reviewer
    Medscape, LLC


    Laurie Barclay, MD, has the following relevant financial relationships:
    Formerly owned stocks in: AbbVie Inc.

Editor/Compliance Reviewer

  • Lisa Simani, APRN, MS, ACNP

    Associate Director, Accreditation and Compliance, Medscape, LLC


    Lisa Simani, APRN, MS, ACNP, has no relevant financial relationships.

Compliance Reviewer

  • Yaisanet Oyola, MD

    Associate Director, Accreditation and Compliance, Medscape, LLC


    Yaisanet Oyola, MD, has no relevant financial relationships.

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This activity has been peer reviewed and the reviewer has no relevant financial relationships.

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What Are the Latest Guidelines for Transgender Health Care?

Authors: News Author: Lisa Nainggolan; CME Author: Laurie Barclay, MDFaculty and Disclosures

CME / ABIM MOC / CE Released: 11/11/2022

Valid for credit through: 11/11/2023, 11:59 PM EST


Clinical Context

Standards of Care for the Health of Transgender and Gender Diverse People, Version 8 (FSOC8) is based on the best available science and expert professional consensus in transgender health. Recommendations were based on data from independent systematic literature reviews, background reviews, and expert opinions.

SOC8 contains 18 chapters of recommendations for healthcare professionals (HCPs) caring for transgender and gender-diverse (TGD) persons: Terminology, Global Applicability, Population Estimates, and Education; Assessment of Adults, Adolescents, Children, Nonbinary, Eunuchs, and Intersex Individuals, and residents in Institutional Environments; and gender-affirming medical and surgical (GAMST) (Hormone Therapy, Surgery and Postoperative Care, Voice and Communication, Primary Care, Reproductive Health, Sexual Health, and Mental Health).

Study Synopsis and Perspective

The long-awaited global transgender care guidelines have been published, however it doesn’t include recommendations regarding age limits for treatment and surgery in teenagers but acknowledging the complexity of dealing with such adolescents amid lack of longitudinal research on the impact of transitioning gender.

These are "the most comprehensive set of guidelines ever produced to assist health care professionals around the world in support of transgender and gender diverse adults, adolescents, and children who are taking steps to live their lives authentically," wrote WPATH President Walter Bouman, MD, PhD, and WPATH President Elect Marci Bowers, MD, in a news release.[1]

SOC8 is the first update to guidance on the treatment of transgender individuals in 10 years and appears in the International Journal of Transgender Health.[2]

For the first time, the association wrote a chapter dedicated to TGD adolescents: distinct from the child chapter.

The Complexity of Treating Adolescents

WPATH officials owed this to exponential growth in adolescent referral rates, more research on adolescent gender diversity-related care, and the unique developmental and care issues of this age group.

Until recently, there was limited information regarding the prevalence of gender diversity among adolescents. Studies from high school samples indicate much higher rates than was earlier thought, with reports of up to 1.2% of participants identifying as transgender and up to ≥ 2.7% (eg, 7%-9%) experiencing some level of self-reported gender diversity, WPATH said.

The new chapter "applies to adolescents from the start of puberty until the legal age of majority (in most cases, 18 years)," it states. Still, WPATH did not go as far as to recommend lowering the age at which youths can receive cross-sex hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgeries, as earlier decreed in a draft of the guidelines. That draft suggested that young persons could receive hormone therapy at age 14 years, surgeries for double mastectomies at age 15 years, and genital reassignment at age 17 years.

Now, the final SOC8 emphasizes that each transgender adolescent is unique, and decisions must be made on an individual basis, with no recommendations on specific ages for any treatment. This could be interpreted in many ways.

The SOC8 also acknowledges the "very rare" regret of individuals who have transitioned to the opposite gender and then changed their minds.

"[Healthcare] Providers may consider the possibility an adolescent may regret gender-affirming decisions made during adolescence, and a young person will want to stop treatment and return to living in the birth-assigned gender role in the future. Providers may discuss this topic in a collaborative and trusting manner with the adolescent and their parents/caregivers before gender-affirming medical treatments are started," it states.

WPATH, in addition, stressed the importance of counseling and supporting regretting patients, many who "expressed difficulties finding help during their detransition process and reported their detransition was an isolating experience during which they did not receive either sufficient or appropriate support."

Although it does not put a firm figure on the rate of regret overall, in its chapter on surgery, WPATH estimates that 0.3% to 3.8% of transgender individuals regret gender-affirming surgery.

SOC8 also acknowledges a "pattern of uneven ratios by assigned sex has been reported in gender clinics," with assigned female-at-birth patients "initiating care 2.5-7.1 times more frequently" than patients who were assigned male at birth.

WPATH states in SOC8 that another phenomenon is the growing number of adolescents seeking care who had not previously experienced or expressed gender diversity during their childhood years.

SOC8 recommends that before any medical or surgical treatment is considered, HCPs "undertake a comprehensive biopsychosocial assessment of adolescents who present with gender identity-related concerns and seek medical/surgical transition-related care." In addition, it recommends against the use of conversion therapy for TGD.

It specifically mentions that transgender adolescents "show high rates of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)/characteristics," and notes that "other neurodevelopmental presentations and/or mental health challenges may also be present, (e.g., ADHD [attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder], intellectual disability, and psychotic disorders)."

Who Uses WPATH to Guide Care? This Is 'a Big Unknown'

WPATH is an umbrella organization with offshoots in most Western nations, such as USPATH in the United States, EPATH in Europe, and AUSPATH and NZPATH in Australia and New Zealand, respectively; however, it is not the only organization to issue guidance on the care of transgender individuals: Several specialties take care of this patient population, including, but not limited to, pediatricians, endocrinologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and plastic surgeons.

The extent to which any healthcare professional, or professional body, follows WPATH guidance is extremely varied.

"There is nothing binding clinicians to the SOC, and the SOC is so broad and vague that anyone can say they're following it but according to their own biases and interpretation," Aaron Kimberly, a trans man and mental health physician from the Gender Dysphoria Alliance told MedscapMedical News.

In North America, some clinics practice full "informed consent," with no assessment and prescriptions at the first visit, Kimberly said, whereas others do comprehensive assessments.

"I think SOC should be observed. It shouldn't just be people going rogue," Erica Anderson, a clinical psychologist in Berkeley, California, former president of USPATH, and former member of WPATH, who is herself transgender, told Medscape Medical News. "The reason there are standards of care is because hundreds of scientists have weighed in — is it perfect? No. We have a long way to go. But you can't just ignore whatever it is that we know and let people make their own decisions."

Study Highlights

  • The new chapter dedicated to TGD adolescents is distinct from the child chapter.
  • Increasing numbers of adolescents are seeking care who had not previously experienced or expressed gender diversity during childhood, which may reflect susceptibility to social influence affecting gender.
  • Assigned female-at-birth TGD adolescents initiate care 2.5 to 7.1 times more frequently than adolescents assigned male-at-birth.
  • Despite a guidelines draft suggesting possible starting ages of 14 years for hormone therapy, 15 years for double mastectomies, and 17 years for genital reassignment, the final SOC8 did not recommend lowering the age at which youths can receive cross-sex hormone therapy or GAMST.
  • SOC8 emphasizes the uniqueness of each TGD adolescent and recommends individual decision making, with no recommendations on specific ages for any treatment.
  • An estimated 0.3% to 3.8% of TGD persons regret gender-affirming surgery and may want to stop treatment and return to living in their birth-assigned gender roles.
  • Before starting GAMST, HCPs should discuss this in a collaborative and trusting manner with the adolescent and their parents/caregivers.
  • Healthcare professionals should counsel and support regretting patients, as many report their detransition was an isolating experience during which they did not receive sufficient or appropriate support.
  • Before considering GAMST, HCPs should perform a comprehensive biopsychosocial assessment, as TGD adolescents have high rates of ASD and may have other mental health challenges, including ADHD, intellectual disability, and psychotic disorders.
  • Healthcare professionals should educate TGD adolescents regarding benefits and risks for chest binding and genital tucking.
  • Menstrual suppression agents may be helpful for TGD adolescents who may not desire or have not yet begun testosterone therapy, or along with testosterone for breakthrough bleeding.
  • To meet the diverse healthcare needs of TGD persons globally, SOC8 recommendations are intended to be flexible and adaptable.
  • SOC8 offers standards for promoting optimal health care and treatment guidance for persons with gender incongruence.
  • Its recommendations are clinical guidelines that may be modified by individual HCPs and programs, in consultation with the TGD person, to match the treatment approach to specific patient needs, particularly their goals for gender identity and expression.
  • Healthcare professionals should focus on promoting health and well-being rather than only reducing gender dysphoria, which may or may not be present, and should commit to harm reduction approaches.
  • Healthcare professionals should only recommend GAMST requested by a TGD person when the experience of gender incongruence is marked and sustained; when diagnostic criteria are fulfilled; and after excluding other possible causes of apparent gender incongruence.
  • Before making any treatment decisions, healthcare professionals should assess mental/physical health conditions that could negatively affect treatment outcome and discuss risks and benefits.
  • Healthcare professionals should assess patient capacity to consent for specific treatment and to understand its reproductive effects.
  • Additional requirements for TGD adolescents desiring GAMST include emotional and cognitive maturity to provide informed consent; Tanner stage 2 of puberty before initiating pubertal suppression; and ≥ 12 months of gender-affirming hormone therapy to achieve the desired surgical result for gender-affirming procedures (breast augmentation, orchiectomy, vaginoplasty, hysterectomy, phalloplasty, metoidioplasty, and facial surgery), unless hormone therapy is not desired or medically contraindicated.
  • TGD individuals should receive primary care, including cardiovascular and metabolic care and cancer screening.
  • Psychotherapy may benefit TGD individuals but should not be required for GAMST; conversion treatment should not be offered.

Clinical Implications

  • SOC8 has no recommendations regarding age limits for GAMST of TGD adolescents.
  • SOC8 recommendations are clinical guidelines that may be modified to match treatment approach to specific patient needs.
  • Implications for the Healthcare Team: HCPs should focus on promoting health and well-being rather than only reducing gender dysphoria.


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