Gynecomastia is the growth of abnormally large breasts in males . It is due to the excess growth of breast tissue, not excess fat tissue.
The condition may occur in one or both breasts. It begins as a small lump beneath the nipple, which may be tender. One breast may be larger than the other.
Enlarged breasts in males are usually harmless, but may cause embarrassment for some men.
Men with gynecomastia may have tenderness/ pain and swelling which can make the condition very uncomfortable to live with.
Some newborns may have breast development along with a milky discharge (galactorrhea).
This condition usually lasts for a couple of weeks and is due to maternal estrogen but in rare cases may last until the child is 2 years old.
Psuedogynecomastia is very similar in appearance to true gynecomastia…
…the major difference is that the enlargement of the breast(s) present in pseudogynecomastia is caused by deposition of excess fatty tissue around the chest as opposed to growth of glandular and fatty tissue in true gynecomastia.
Signs and Symptoms of Gynecomastia
There are several symptoms associated with the onset of gynecomasta in males namely;
- Swelling of breasts
- Tenderness of breast
There are some other symptoms which may be as a result of gynecomastia. They include;
- Pain in breasts
- Discharge from nipples
- Sores or depressions on the breast
You should try to see your doctor if any of these symptoms persist as they could be indicative of some other conditions.
Causes of Male Breast Enlargement
There are several causes of breast enlargement in males including but not limited to;
Obesity is the major cause of pseudogynecomastia. False gynecomastia occurs when there is an increase in the deposition of fatty tissues in the subcutaneous region of the breasts.
As the percentage of your body fat increases, so does the likelihood that there will be development of man boobs. Therefore, man boobs are more likely to occur in people who have more body fat than in other individuals.
Usually, losing the weight gradually causes a corresponding decrease in the size of the breasts and attainment of a healthier weight might cause them to revert back to normal.
- Hormonal imbalance:
Glandular breast tissue grows in response to the presence of estrogen in the body. Both males and females produce estrogen.
In females, estrogen is the primary sex hormone and is produced in large quantities. In males however, testosterone is the primary sex hormone and is produced in larger quantities than in females while very little estrogen is produced alongside it.
Due to certain health conditions, there may be an increase in the quantity of estrogen in the male body.
When there is such an increase, the glandular tissues of the breasts grow in response to the presence of the hormone and causes man boobs.
In cases where there is an increase in the estrogen levels in a male it is important you find out the underlying condition causing the hormonal imbalance. This is to ensure that the condition does not worsen and treatment is effective.
Gynecomastia is fairly common in males at birth (from maternal estrogen) and puberty. In both cases, it occurs as a result of an imbalance in the hormones and usually goes away on its own within a year.
Furthermore, one in four men between the ages of 50 and 80 seem to be more susceptible to changes in hormones and suffer from gynecomastia.
- Genetic anomalies:
Some genetic anomalies such as Klinefelter’s syndrome can lead to development of breasts in males. Klinefelter’s syndrome occurs when there is an extra X-chromosome present in a male.
Individuals with this condition usually suffer from small testes which lead to lower testosterone levels than normal.
In addition to this, people who suffer from Klinefelter’s syndrome experience true gynecomastia and an increased incidence of breast cancer.
Several medicines have the ability to cause gynecomastia in males. Gynecomastia may be caused by drugs definitely associated with the onset of gynecomastia such as
- Human Growth Hormone
- Human Chorionic Gonadotropin
- Anti-androgenous medication
- GnRH analogs and 5-α reductase inhibitors.
- Other medications probably associated with gynecomastia include risperidone, verapamil, nifedipine, omeprazole, alkylating agents, HIV medications (efavirenz), anabolic steroids, alcohol and opioids.
- Anabolic steroids and androgens
- AIDS patients from medication
The presence of cancerous tissue can be mistaken for and can cause gynecomastia.
Though cancer of the breasts is relatively rare in male populations when compared to female populations, there is still the possibility that enlargement of the breasts may be as a result of cancerous tissue in the region.
Also, cancer of the testes may cause an inability of your body to produce testosterone and lead to gynecomastia.
- Diet and Estrogen-mimicking compounds:
Some foods have the ability to break down to compounds that mimic estrogen when ingested. Also, some herbs and some plants do the same.
If you eat these foods regularly or use the herbs for treatments or as supplements, they can stimulate the growth of the glandular tissue of the breast.
Examples of these foods are:
- Soybean which contains phytoestrogens and is the mainstay of most vegan diets.
- Farmed seafood which contain estrogen mimicking pesticides.
- Strawberries, peaches, apples, etc. also contain estrogen mimicking pesticides.
- Licorice can decrease your testosterone levels.
- Beets contain compounds that can boost estrogen levels
Some other items such as tea tree and lavender which are present in shampoos and other body care products are also culprits.
- Posture and spinal curvatures:
These may cause pseudogynecomastia. Spinal curvatures refer to conditions where the spine deviates from it normal path. This deviation may come in the form of scoliosis, kyphosis, lordosis or other conditions.
When the spine curves, all surrounding tissue is affected. The curvature causes fat to be deposited in an uneven pattern and may cause an appearance of gynecomastia on one side of the body.
Treatment of the spinal curvature and posture correction will usually help.
- Infection and lumps in the testicle
Any condition that affects the function of the testes such as infections and lumps in the testicular region may cause a variation in its ability to produce testosterone.
If testosterone levels are impacted for a significant amount of time, there is a higher likelihood of developing breasts.
- Alcohol abuse and liver disease:
Our livers have the ability to perform several metabolic functions. One of the functions of the liver is the metabolism of hormones.
A less-than-efficient liver may convert androgens into estrogens, resulting in growth of the glandular tissue.
Alcohol also affects the liver’s ability to get rid of excess estrogen by damaging the liver. In addition to this, phytoestrogens are present in the hops used to make beer and can increase estrogen levels.
- Marijuana and illegal drug use:
The consumption of illegal drugs usually with unknown components increases the risk of gynecomastia.
This can occur because marijuana and some other illegal drugs may decrease the body’s ability to produce testosterone.
Other street drugs that can affect the ability of the body to control its own hormone levels are amphetamines, methadone and heroin.
An overactive thyroid can produce too much of a substance called “thyroxine”. This hormone can interfere with the sex hormone balance.
- Kidney failure:
People who undergo dialysis can suffer from gynecomastia as a side effect caused by hormonal changes.
- Malnutrition and starvation:
When our bodies are deprived of normal nutrition, testosterone levels drop. Estrogen levels however remain normal.
As a result, estrogen can become the dominant circulating hormone and stimulate glandular tissue in the breasts to become enlarged.
Effects of Male Breast Enlargement
The major effects of enlarged breasts in males are psychological and emotional and result from appearance and not the condition itself.
Most males who suffer from gynecomastia become withdrawn and lose self-confidence and self-esteem.
There is reluctance to engage in sports such as swimming or in any activity that will require semi nudity. This condition makes men shy away from engaging in relationships and any sexual activities as well.
How to Hide Male Breast
Treating gynecomastia or waiting for it to go away on its own can be a time consuming and painful process.
For most men, hiding your man boobs can be a means to an end until a more permanent solution is achieved.
Hiding your man boobs also has the added advantage of being instantaneous. Just wearing a compression vest or manssiere and dressing in a manner that draws attention away from your boobs can have amazing results.
Options for hiding your man boobs include;
- Compression vests:
Compression vests are a kind of firm elasticated inner shirt that provide support to the torso when worn. They can usually be gotten at health supply stores and fitness stores.
They perform a similar function to the spanx worn by women and help smooth out unsightly bulges and bumps. They have the added advantage of also trimming the stomach.
This is basically a cross between compression vests and sports bras. The manssiere looks like a sports bra but is made with the same type of material that is used to make compression vests.
It covers only the part of the chest where the breasts are.
You can also use bandages wrapped around the chest to create the same effect as the manssiere. You will require the assistance of someone else to wrap these properly though.
The bandages are wrapped around the breasts very firmly.
(It is important to note that if you are considering using pasties to hide your nipples that you should never substitute tape for the pasties. Tape may cause scarring and mutilation of the nipple)
Apart from using the aforementioned, you can also use these dressing tips to deemphasize your chest region.
- Avoid wearing tight or baggy clothing. Properly fitted clothes will always look best and hide any enlargements present.
- Wearing layered clothing and a jacket can also make the contours of your body less visible while still giving you a great look.
- Wearing thicker fabrics is usually more effective than wearing thin fabrics
- Wearing patterns instead of plain fabric will help by drawing the attention of the eyes away from the contours of the body.
- Wearing shirts with pockets and collars can also help with diverting attention away from your moobs.
Treatments for Enlarged Male Breasts
There are several more permanent methods of treating male breast enlargement. These methods may be recommended based on the following factors;
- Cause of the gynecomastia:
The method of treatment recommended depends on the cause of the gynecomastia. In some cases, waiting may be the answer while other cases may require immediate intervention.
- Age of the individual:
Age is a very important consideration. About fifty percent of males have gynecomastia at birth thanks to exposure to maternal estrogen. This usually resolves by itself.
In males entering puberty, there can be a sudden shift in hormones that can cause an increase in breast tissue.
Though this may be devastating for a teenage boy, the good news is that it will usually resolve by itself within a year.
Furthermore, men who have attained the age of fifty will usually experience a decrease in testosterone levels while their estrogen remains normal.
For all the cases explained above, treatment may be as simple as waiting for the condition to resolve itself.
- Diet and exposure to hormones:
Your doctor may ask you to remove some foods for your diet. Removing these foods may be enough to halt the progress of gynecomastia while other treatments may be considered.
- The presence of swelling, pain and/or tenderness:
The presence of any of these can be indicative of other conditions. Your doctor will likely want you to undertake further testing to rule out other conditions.
Tests for Gynecomastia
Your doctor will likely recommend some tests for you. The tests you will be asked to do are likely;
- Blood tests
Depending on the initial test results, you may have to do some further tests including;
- A computerized tomography scan
- Testicular ultrasounds
- Tissue biopsies
The results of these tests will determine the treatment approach that will be taken.
Permanent Treatment Options
The type of surgery recommended is usually dependent on the cause of the moobs. Where there is an increase in glandular tissue, the recommendation is usually for surgery.
There are different types of surgery recommended for gynecomastia namely;
- The Webster Incision: This is one of the most common methods used to treat gynecomastia. An incision is made underneath the areola (nipple itself) in the dark skin and is only in the lower half.
- The Minimally Invasive Method: In these methods, a very small incision is made at the edge of the nipple. The incision is about 5 mm for the excess glandular tissue to be removed following liposuction. The major benefit of this technique is the smaller incision.
- Ultrasonic Liposuction Method: Ultrasound may also be used to correct the breast enlargement if the cause of the breast enlargement is not glandular. In this method, the chances for nipple distortion to occur are low however few patients can be adequately treated with liposuction by itself.
- Medications such as estrogen blockers:
Depending on the cause of gynecomastia, medication may be recommended. The use of estrogen blockers is usually recommended in cases caused by hormonal imbalances.
- Exercise to lose weight and build muscles in the chest region:
If man boobs are caused by obesity , they can usually be resolved by engaging in exercises not only to lose weight but also to build up the pectoral muscles and firm the chest
- Diet to remove compounds that mimic hormones:
In some cases, the offending factor might be the diet of the man in question. Usually, removing all foods capable of releasing hormone mimicking compounds into the body can halt the progress of gynecomastia.
Depending on the extent to which the man boobs have grown, there may or may not be need for surgery and medication.