Gynecomastia or male breast enlargement is actually common. Around half of all male babies are born with it, but there are adult men who end up with the condition, causing embarrassment. Fortunately there are ways to deal with man boobs and we will look at the various treatments. But first you need to understand what it is and what brings the condition about.
Signs and Symptoms of Gynecomastia
The most obvious gynecomastia symptoms are swelling of the breasts. The swelling may affect one or more your breasts. In many cases the sensation when you touch it doesn’t change, though some say the swollen tissue feels tender. Some with severe cases of gynecomastia say the breasts are painful to touch. You should see a doctor immediately if there is pain in one or both breasts or if there is liquid being discharged from either one or both.
What Causes Gynecomastia?
Gynecomastia is caused by hormonal imbalance. To be more specific, your estrogen levels go up and your testosterone goes down. You have a small amount of estrogen in your body – all men do – but under certain circumstances and conditions, an imbalance results.
Estrogen is responsible for producing female characteristics inasmuch as testosterone is responsible for the male traits. When your estrogen level suddenly goes up it triggers the swelling of the breasts. Testosterone and estrogen are responsible for our sexual characteristics, and that’s why too much estrogen leads to man boobs.
- Infant Gynecomastia: adult male gynecomastia should not be confused with the gynecomastia in male babies. As we mentioned earlier, a lot of male infants are born with enlarged breasts and this is due to the estrogen from their mother. The difference between infant and adult gynecomastia is those on infants normalize in just a couple of weeks following their birth, or a month at most.
- Puberty Gynecomastia: this is a form of gynecomastia also occurs during puberty, and the cause is the hormonal changes taking place. Whereas infant gynecomastia disappears in just a couple of weeks, puberty gynecomastia lasts anywhere from half a year to a couple of years
- The gynecomastia that affects adult men usually affects those between the ages of 50 and 80. Because the sight of elderly, overweight men is so common, some people assume it is a normal occurrence and part of aging, but it’s not.
There are also young men who might suffer from this condition due to medication:
- Digoxin and other medications for heart ailments
- Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments such as spironolactone and finasteride.
- Tagamet and other ulcer medications
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Different types of antibiotics
- Valium and other sleeping pills
- Anti-depression drugs
- Anabolic steroids
- Some men become vulnerable to gynecomastia when they take AIDS medications. There is a wide array of medications for AIDS though Sustiva appears to trigger man boobs more than any other.
If you suspect medication to be the cause of your man boobs, consult your doctor for a change in dosage or an alternative treatment.
Hormonal gynecomastia may also be triggered by other substances especially if they’re abused. Chief among these is alcohol, but there are also other drugs that cause gynecomastia such as heroin, amphetamine, methadone and marijuana.
Health and Gynecomastia
There are certain medical conditions apart from hormonal imbalance that might result in gynecomastia.
- Hypogonadism: any health condition that affects testosterone production could lead to gynecomastia. It is well known that medical conditions such as pituitary insufficiency and Klinefelter syndrome could lead to swelling of the male breasts.
- Aging: as men get older their testosterone production goes down, and it could trigger a hormonal imbalance and lead to enlargement of the breasts.
- Diet: lack of proper nutrition might precipitate a drop in testosterone levels. This could result in hormonal imbalance. However, man boobs can also affect those men whose diet is too rich in fats. When your body doesn’t have enough nutrition your body testosterone level drops but estrogen remains consistent, resulting in the imbalance.
- Cirrhosis: cirrhosis and other conditions that damage the liver could hinder testosterone production.
- Kidney Ailments: just like your liver, the kidney performs several important functions related to your testosterone. If you have kidney damage or undergoing hemodialysis it could lead to significant changes in your hormones.
Who is Vulnerable to Gynecomastia?
Male breast growth can occur during adolescence, but it can also affect those who are older. The risk increases if you use androgens or anabolic steroids. It might seem odd for anabolic steroids – substances that promote muscle growth – to cause gynecomastia. However, all anabolic steroids reduce testosterone production so you’re at risk.
We had already mentioned that Klinefelter syndrome is one of the causes of male breast swelling. However it’s not the only one as kidney disease, hormonally active tumors and thyroid problems also make you more vulnerable.
While there are several risk factors, no serious complications arise from it. There are a few instances wherein the swollen breasts feel tender, painful or have a discharge. Often though there are no complications except for the psychological and emotional distress caused by enlarged breasts.
Gynecomastia Tests and Diagnosis
Your doctor will start by asking questions about your health, medical history and any medications you are taking or have used recently. Tests may be conducted such as an assessment of your abdomen and breast tissues. The following procedures may be performed as well:
- Blood examination
- Tissue biopsies
- Testicular ultrasounds
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan
- CT (computerized topography) scan
During the examination your physician may conduct additional tests to check if your unusual male breast development is due to other medical conditions other than gynecomastia. Among the conditions that your doctor will look for are:
- Fatty Breast Tissue: some males develop an excess amount of chest fat. This is known as pseudo-gynecomastia or false gynecomastia. This should not be confused with “real” gynecomastia which is often caused by hormonal imbalance and the other reasons cited here.
- Mastitis: also known as breast abscess, this is an infection that causes the swelling.
There are several ways to treat man boobs, such as natural supplements which reduce the swelling. However if there is pain, the underlying cause must be treated. As we have mentioned enlargement of the breasts could be traced to cirrhosis, kidney, and liver problems and so on. It’s important you’re diagnosed so the proper treatment can be administered.
For adolescents who have persistent man boobs, a physician may evaluate the condition every 3 to 6 months to determine if it’s improving or deteriorating. For the most part, adolescent gynecomastia doesn’t require treatment because it goes away eventually.
Other treatment options include the following:
- Some breast cancer medications like raloxifene may be effective in treating gynecomastia. However, it does not appear to work on all men and it was not formulated for this purpose.
- Natural supplements: there are some natural pills for gynecomstia and creams that are getting popular. Also some herbs like green tea, milk thistle, passion flower, dandelion and other may be consumed as tea. Many people have experienced success with this approach.
- Surgery: if all else fails there is surgery. This is the most expensive option which is why most consider it as a last resort. If you do decide to go this route you have a couple of options.The first is liposuction, which gets rid of the fat but leaves the breast tissue behind. The second option is mastectomy. In this surgical procedure the breast gland tissue is removed. While it seems more complicated, it is actually less invasive and recovery time is shorter.
- Healthy Diet: even if your hormones are balanced, a poor diet could lead to obesity and pseudo-gynecomastia. You don’t have to give up meat and sweets entirely, but you should put emphasis on fiber and protein. Read more about gyno diet here.
- Exercise: your workouts should focus on your whole body. You can combine cardio and strength training either in one session or alternate days. For the best results, work out 5 days a week for 30 minutes or longer.
- Build Muscles: dieting only makes you lose weight, but if you want to maintain a good physique you should combine it with a regular workout plan and stick to it.
If you don’t work out regularly, take your time. Don’t force the situation and give your body time to adjust. Start with 15 minutes a day and work it up to 30 minutes.
How to Hide Your Man Boobs
Even if you’ve got a serious case of man boobs, you’ll be able to overcome it by wearing the right clothes. Here are some suggestions:
- Wear shirts with small patterns around the chest area as they conceal the bulge. There is no shortage of patterns to choose from, just make certain it is small. Pinstripes are popular, and generally speaking any pattern that is “long” makes you look slim.
- Avoid Bright Colors: don’t wear brightly colored shirts and instead go for dark shirts. Do not wear white clothing because it is going to emphasize your chest. Your clothing can be black, dark blue or other dark shades, just avoid the vivid ones.
- Contrasts should be avoided because your goal is to achieve a uniform look. By matching your upper and lower apparel there won’t be any visual discord, ensuring you look slimmer than you are.
- Compression Clothes: compression clothing comes in different shapes and styles but they have the same function. Basically they hold and reshape your boobs. These clothes also regulate body temperature so you remain comfortable.
- If you don’t want to invest in compression clothing you can just opt to wear multiple layers of clothing. This is a suitable option provided you’re living in a cold climate area. However it is impractical during the summer.
- Wear the Right Size: clothes that are too tight make your boobs more conspicuous, but so will baggy outfits. It is better to wear the proper size and follow the color guidelines given here.
These fashion tips are not permanent solutions. But it is something you can do while getting treatment. Because treatment can take a while to achieve results, you can wear these clothes in the meantime. Once your man boobs are gone you can wear anything you want.
Living with Gynecomastia
Even if there is no physical gynecomastia pain, the emotional and mental anguish can be embarrassing and stressful. For teenagers it may affect their social life and make them hesitant to establish romantic relationships. They may even be subjected to teasing. The same situation also faced by adults.
If necessary you may seek counseling, as therapy can relieve stress caused by gynecomastia. Getting treatment is also going to help your family and loved ones understand the stress you’re dealing with. You should also not feel ashamed to talk about it with a health expert because you’re not the only one who is suffering from this condition.
If you have gynecomastia the first thing you should do is visit a doctor. If it is pseudo-gynecomastia (i.e. due to chest fat), go on a diet, exercise and ask your doctor if there is need for any medication. If your gynecomastia is due to hormonal imbalance you can use any of the treatments we have listed here.
Even if you don’t have male breast cancer there are other ways you could acquire this condition. While there are a lot of treatment options available there are some preventive steps you can take.
- Do not use anabolic steroids. Aside from reducing testosterone these steroids have a lot of side effects, and they are banned in most countries.
- Don’t use heroin, cocaine or other drugs as it could mess up your hormones.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. Too much alcohol weakens your liver and this could lead to low testosterone production.
- Review your medications. Research their potential side effects if they lead to man boobs.
Men with breasts that is larger than average often feel shame and discomfort. However it is a manageable situation as we have shown above. By understanding what brings it about, you can take steps to get rid of it permanently. It might take time but if you persevere you’ll get the results you want.