COMMENTARY

The WPATH Guidelines for Treatment of Adolescents With Gender Dysphoria Have Changed

M. Brett Cooper, MD

Disclosures

October 25, 2022

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) is an interdisciplinary professional and educational organization devoted to transgender health. One of their activities is to produce the Standards of Care (SOC) for treatment of individuals with gender dysphoria. According to WPATH, the SOC “articulate a professional consensus about the psychiatric, psychological, medical, and surgical management of gender dysphoria and help professionals understand the parameters within which they may offer assistance to those with these conditions.” Many clinicians around the world use these guidelines to help them care for patients with gender dysphoria and diverse gender expressions.

M. Brett Cooper, MD

The most recent SOC, version 8, were released on Sept. 15, 2022, after a 2-year postponement because of the pandemic. These new standards represent the first update to the SOC since version 7, which was released in 2012. Given how recent this update is, this column will attempt to summarize the changes in the new guidelines that affect children and adolescents.

One of the major differences between SOC versions 7 and 8 is that version 8 now includes a chapter specifically dedicated to the care of adolescents. Version 7 lumped children and adolescents together into one chapter. This is an important distinction for SOC 8, as it highlights that care for prepubertal youth is simply social in nature and distinct from that of pubertal adolescents. Social transition includes things such as using an affirmed name/pronouns and changing hair style and clothes. It does not include medications of any kind. Allowing these youth the time and space to explore the natural gender diversity of childhood leads to improved psychological outcomes over time and reduces adversity. Psychological support, where indicated, should be offered to gender-diverse children and their families to explore the persistence, consistence, and insistence of that child’s gender identity.

Once a child reaches puberty, medications may come into play as part of an adolescent’s transition. SOC 7 had established a minimum age of 16 before any partially reversible medications (testosterone, estrogen) were started as part of a patient’s medical transition. Starting with SOC 8, a minimum age has been removed for the initiation of gender-affirming hormone therapy. However, a patient must still have begun their natal puberty before any medication is started. A specific age was removed to acknowledge that maturity in adolescents occurs on a continuum and at different ages. SOC 8 guidelines continue to recommend that the individual’s emotional, cognitive, and psychosocial development be taken into account when determining their ability to provide consent for treatment. These individuals should still undergo a comprehensive assessment, as described below.

Similar to SOC 7, SOC 8 continues to stress the importance of a comprehensive, multidisciplinary evaluation of those adolescents who seek medical therapy as part of their transition. This allows for the exploration of additional coexisting causes of gender dysphoria, such as anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. If these exist, then they must be appropriately treated before any gender-affirming medical treatment is initiated. Assessments should be performed by clinicians who have training and expertise with the developmental trajectory of adolescents, as well as with common mental health conditions. These assessments are also critical, as SOC 8 acknowledges a rise in the number of adolescents who may not have had gender-diverse expression in childhood.

SOC 8 and the Endocrine Society Guidelines (see references) provide physicians and other health care professionals with a road map for addressing the needs of transgender and gender-diverse persons. By referencing these guidelines when taking care of these patients, physicians and other health care professionals will know that they are providing the most up-to-date, evidence-based care.

Dr. M. Brett Cooper is an assistant professor of pediatrics at University of Texas Southwestern, Dallas, and an adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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References

SOC 8: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/26895269.2022.2100644

SOC 7: https://www.wpath.org/media/cms/Documents/SOC%20v7/SOC%20V7_English2012.pdf?_t=1613669341

Endocrine Society Gender Affirming Care Guidelines: https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/102/11/3869/4157558?login=false

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