Gender dysphoria occurs when a person feels deep discomfort and distress about the gender they were born with because it does not match their gender identity. For example, a person who was physically born female instead feels a deep inner sense of being male. This mismatch causes severe discomfort, anxiety, and depression.
The cause of gender dysphoria is unknown. Hormones in the womb, genes, and cultural and environmental factors are thought to be involved.
Gender dysphoria can occur in children and in adults. Symptoms vary by age.
Both adults and children may feel a feel a deep distress that interferes with school, work, social life, religious practice, or other areas of life. They may become anxious, depressed, and even suicidal.
Only health care providers trained to identify and work with people with gender dysphoria should make a diagnosis.
The provider will take a medical history and do a psychiatric evaluation. Gender dysphoria may be diagnosed if two symptoms or more last at least 6 months.
It is important to work with providers trained in working with and treating people with gender dysphoria. The goal of treatment is to help the person overcome the distress they feel. It often includes helping the person transition to the gender they identify with.
Treatment for gender dysphoria may include:
The person usually must have sex hormone therapy and have lived as their chosen gender for at least a year before a decision is made about surgery. There are two main types of surgery: one affects fertility, the other does not. Not everyone chooses to have surgery, or they may choose only one type of surgery. People choose the level of treatment that helps them feel most comfortable.
Because of societal and family pressures, having gender dysphoria can affect a person's mental well-being. It is important for the person to receive counseling and support throughout and even after their transition.
Diagnosing and treating gender dysphoria early can reduce the chance of depression, emotional distress, and suicide.
Treatment can relieve symptoms of gender dysphoria. However, reactions from others to the person's transition can continue to create difficulties with work, family, religious, and social life.
Make an appointment with a trained health care provider if you or your child has symptoms of gender dysphoria.
Reviewed By: Ryan James Kimmel, MD, Medical Director of Hospital Psychiatry at the University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.