Once you and your doctor have chosen a gender for your baby, you may opt to begin treatment for ambiguous genitalia. The goal of treatment is to ensure sexual function and fertility, as well as long-term psychological and social well-being. When to begin treatment depends on your child's specific situation.
Hormone medications may help correct the hormonal imbalance. In some children, hormones may be administered shortly after birth and may be the only treatment necessary. For example, in a genetic female with a slightly enlarged clitoris caused by a minor to moderate case of congenital adrenal hyperplasia, proper levels of hormones may shrink the tissue close to a normal size. Other children may take hormones around the time they would normally undergo puberty.
In children with ambiguous genitalia, surgery may be used to:
- Preserve normal sexual function
- Create more natural-looking genitals
The timing of surgery for ambiguous genitalia will depend on your child's specific situation. Many doctors prefer to postpone surgery done solely for cosmetic reasons until the person with ambiguous genitalia is mature enough to participate in the decision about gender assignment.
For girls with ambiguous genitalia, the sex organs often work normally despite the ambiguous outward appearance. If a girl's vagina is hidden under her skin, surgery in childhood can help with sexual function later. For boys, surgery to reconstruct an incomplete penis may improve appearance and make erections possible.
Results of surgery are often satisfying, but repeat surgeries may be needed later. Risks include a disappointing cosmetic result or sexual dysfunction, such as an impaired ability to achieve orgasm.
Mar. 16, 2012
- Ambiguous genitalia. American Urological Association Foundation. http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=90. Accessed Feb. 14, 2012.
- Tanagho EA, et al. Smith's General Urology. 17th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2008. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=21. Accessed Feb. 16, 2012.
- Murphy C, et al. Ambiguous genitalia in the newborn: An overview and teaching tool. Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology. 2011;24:236.
- Barbaro M, et al. Disorders of sex development. Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine. 2011;16:119.
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