About 1 in 1,000 babies born 'intersex,' study finds

By HealthDay News
A study found of 14,200 newborns found 1.3 in 1,000 births had ambiguous male or female genitalia. Photo by pixabay
A study found of 14,200 newborns found 1.3 in 1,000 births had ambiguous male or female genitalia. Photo by pixabay

Cases in which a newborn's genitals make it unclear whether the child is a boy or girl may be more common than once believed, researchers say.

One example of what's known as ambiguous genitalia is a baby girl with an enlarged clitoris that looks more like a small penis, the study authors explained.


In some cases, infants have external sex organs that don't match their internal reproductive organs. For example, a female infant can have external sex organs that resemble male genitals but have typical internal female organs -- ovaries and a uterus.

In these so-called "intersex" cases, treatment may be delayed until puberty or adulthood so that patients and doctors can make shared decisions, according to the study's first author, Dr. Banu Kucukemre Aydin, a researcher at Istanbul University in Turkey, and her colleagues.

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For their study, the researchers analyzed data on nearly 14,200 newborns. Of those, 18 had ambiguous genitalia. That's a rate of 1.3 in 1,000 births -- much higher than the rate of one in 4,500 to 5,500 reported in previous studies, Aydin said in a news release from The Endocrine Society.

Fifteen of the newborns were diagnosed with 46, XY DSD, a condition in which a male infant can't use testosterone properly or testicles don't develop properly. Babies with the condition had lower birth weights, the investigators found. In addition, preeclampsia -- a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure -- was common in those pregnancies.


"These findings support the hypothesis that early placental dysfunction and androgen deficiency might be important in the etiology of male genital anomalies," Aydin said.

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The findings were recently published online in the Journal of the Endocrine Society.

More information

The Urology Care Foundation has more on ambiguous genitalia.

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