Gender assignment in female congenital adrenal hyperplasia: a difficult experience


Hüsoyin Özbey, MD, Istanbul Medical Faculty, Department of Paediatric Surgery, 34390 Capa, Istanbul, Turkey.



To report experience of gender (re)assignment in genotypic female (46XX) patients with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (f-CAH), a difficult and stressful experience if complicated with delayed presentation and inadvertent assignment.


Between 1983 and 2002, 70 patients with f-CAH were counselled for gender assignment. The age at diagnosis and operation, the degree of virilization, parental consanguinity, the gender preference of the families, and the factors governing the decision-making process were determined.


Forty-one (59%) patients presented after the neonatal period. All parents had already assumed or were advised of a gender for their children, based on the suggestive appearance of the external genitalia. Consequently, 49 patients were reared as female and 21 as ‘male’. Only nine of these ‘males’ could be reassigned as females (mean age at presentation 7.87 months, sd 10.42). Twelve children had to be reared as ‘male’ (mean age at presentation 55.8 months, sd 32.42) in compliance with the parents’ and the study group's decision, and appropriate masculinizing reconstructive surgery was undertaken. The difference in the mean age of those reassigned as female and those who remained ‘male’ was significant (P < 0.001). The parental consanguinity rate among the families was especially high in the ‘male’ patients.


It is extremely difficult to correct the gender of patients with f-CAH when they present at >2.5 years old. Furthermore, the delay in diagnosis and the male bias in choice of gender in our population might be a result of strong social pressures on families, influenced by cultural, traditional and economic factors.