What exactly is gynecomastia?
Gynecomastia is a condition that causes breasts to swell up in boys and men. It mostly happens when 2 hormones in the male system are out of balance. Breasts do not develop in men as they do in women, but all men are born with nipples and a small amount of breast tissue.
Males usually make the hormone testosterone, which guides sexual growth through puberty and beyond, gradually decreasing as men age. However, males also produce a little of the female hormone, estrogen. These hormones are mostly in balance, and if testosterone levels fall and there is a higher percentage of estrogen, it can lead to an imbalance, gynecomastia may then occur and cause enlargement of the breast tissue.
How does this condition occur?
Gynecomastia is not only caused by a hormonal imbalance. There are sometimes other issues involved which may contribute to the problem.
Here are some of them:
- An injury or disease of the testicles which reduces the production of testosterone.
- A malfunctioning thyroid gland, whose hormones control growth and sexual development.
- Cancer tumours of the lungs, pituitary gland, or adrenal glands.
- Obesity which may result in an over-supply of estrogen from the fat cells in the male body.
- Certain medications may also reduce the production of testosterone. These include meds for heart disease, depression, and cancer.
- Illegal drugs like marijuana, anabolic steroids, and heroin.
- Liver disease may also be a factor.
Studies have shown that about 50% of adolescent boys may suffer from gynecomastia, which can fortunately go away without treatment in 6 or 12 months. More or less 30% of men older than 50 may be affected to some degree by this condition, and certainly will require a doctor’s attention.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms are pretty obvious and easy to look out for.
- The first indication of gynecomastia is usually a lump of hard fatty tissue under the nipple, which may tender and painful to the touch.
- There might be some oozing of fluid from the nipple or nipples.
- The swelling of the breasts may happen unevenly, with one getting larger than the other.
If you have any of these symptoms make a plan to visit the doctor for a diagnosis. Although gynecomastia is not necessarily a sign of cancer, the doctor will most likely run some tests to rule it out. This could include a small tissue sample for a biopsy.
How is gynecomastia treated?
The good news that many cases get better slowly without treatment. With regard to older men, the doctor might refer you to a hormonal specialist, who will take blood and urine samples to check hormone levels. Treatment can depend on your health, your age, how long you have had the condition, and how well you respond to certain drugs, as you may have to take meds to address the hormone imbalance that is causing breast growth.
It could also be that your hormonal imbalance might be as a result of a previously undiagnosed medical condition, which would also needed to be treated.
In an extreme cases, often mainly for cosmetic reasons, some men may opt to have surgery to remove extra breast fat or breast gland tissue.
We can help
Research has shown that gynecomastia may lead to anxiety, depression, lowered self-esteem, and even low libido hassles in some men.
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