Men and women have both testosterone (the male sex hormone) and estrogen (the female sex hormone) in their bodies. However, males typically have far more testosterone than estrogen (with females typically having more estrogen). When a boy’s hormone levels change, either due to puberty or an underlying condition, it’s possible for his estrogen levels to rise. When this happens, he can develop breasts — a condition known as gynecomastia.

What is Gynecomastia?

Commonly known as “male breasts,” gynecomastia is the swelling of breast tissue in boys and men. Though it’s most often caused by a hormone imbalance, there are a number of different conditions that can cause an influx of estrogen.

The Emotional Effects of Gynecomastia

Though gynecomastia can cause swelling and breast tenderness, it’s not typically a painful condition. It is, however, emotionally taxing on men, as almost no man wants to have breasts. Because they’re ashamed of their breasts (and many don’t even realize that it’s a medical condition causing their enlarged chest) most men simply cover their chest and don’t talk about it.

Causes of Gynecomastia

All gynecomastia is caused by an underlying hormone imbalance, however, there are a number of different things that can cause the imbalance.

Infancy

Did you know that roughly half of all baby boys have gynecomastia? This is because their mother’s estrogen is still running through them. Most baby’s breast tissue will go away within a few weeks as their internal organs begin to produce their own hormones.

Puberty

During puberty, when a boy’s hormones are changing drastically, it’s possible for him to begin producing large amounts of estrogen. However, similar to infants, his body will typically “correct” its hormone levels before puberty ends.

Obesity

Just like in women, obesity can also cause breasts to grow. Often times, men with mild gynecomastia will try to gain weight, as a way of distracting others from their breasts. However, this tends to only make matters worse.

Alcohol Abuse

Excessive alcohol use can cause cirrhosis of the liver, also known as liver disease. Because the liver is responsible for metabolizing hormones, a diseased liver won’t be able to do its job properly. If your body begins absorbing more estrogen (female) hormones than androgen (male) hormones, enlarged breasts could be the result.

Cancer

Testicular and lung cancer have been known to affect hormone levels in men. Even if the tumor is benign (noncancerous), it can still cause your body to overproduce estrogen and develop breasts.

5 Signs You Have Gynecomastia

Gynecomastia (male breasts) may seem like one of the easiest things to diagnose — if you’re a man with large breasts, you must have gynecomastia, right? Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. There’s a big difference between diagnosable gynecomastia and excess weight in your chest.

  1. Enlarged breasts. The first, and most obvious, sign is enlarged breasts.
  2. Mood swings. If your hormones are suddenly fluctuating or imbalanced, it will affect more than just your chest — it will likely also affect your mood.
  3. Breast sensitivity. When you touch your chest, does is feel sore or tender? If so, this is a sign of gynecomastia.
  4. A small lump under your nipple. Gynecomastia is sometimes accompanied by a small mass under the nipple. It’s also possible that this lump can be a sign of breast cancer. If you ever feel a lump in your breasts, you should contact your doctor immediately.  
  5. Swollen nipples. Another sign of gynecomastia is enlarged, erect, or “puffy” nipples. This could mean that you have an excess amount of estrogen in your body. This can also add to the shame or embarrassment men with gynecomastia feel.

Will Gynecomastia Go Away Overtime?

That’s a tough question to answer. You may not realize it, but most male infants are born with enlarged breasts. Within two to three weeks, they’ll usually begin to decrease in size. However, if you begin to develop breasts at a later age, they’re not as likely to go away on their own.

Gynecomastia in Teens

Most men with persistent gynecomastia will develop it during puberty when their hormones are changing. For some, gynecomastia will go away once they finish puberty and their hormone levels return to normal. However, some men will notice little to no change in their chest size, even years after puberty has ended.

Gynecomastia in Men Over 20

If you develop gynecomastia after puberty, it likely won’t go completely away on its own or with natural remedies.

It’s also very likely that hormones have nothing to do with your specific case of gynecomastia. Things like tumors and malnutrition have also been known to cause the condition. If this is the case, it’s more unlikely that your breasts will naturally get smaller over time.

Natural Ways to Reduce the Size of Your Breasts

Though the best solution for men with persistent gynecomastia is surgery, certain lifestyle changes can have some effect on your breasts. If you have gynecomastia, you should:

  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs
  • Never smoke cigarettes
  • Stay away from substances, like marijuana, heroin, steroids, and methadone
  • Exercise regularly, paying specific attention to chest-based exercises
  • Check your medications, as certain ones can cause or exaggerate gynecomastia

Am I a Candidate for Gynecomastia Surgery?

You are likely a good candidate for gynecomastia surgery if you:

  • Have tried everything. Most candidates have tried everything else to remove unwanted fat from their breasts. They’ve struggled through countless diets and exercise routines. They’ve also tried all kinds of dietary supplements and medications with little to no luck. They now realize that an operation may be their one and only option.
  • Are healthy. The best candidates for plastic surgery are fit and healthy. Patients who benefit the most are overweight and not severely obese. Doctors look for men who do not have pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes or heart disease. These unfavorable conditions include:
    • Poor heart and blood circulation
    • Smoking and/or substance abuse
    • Poor immune system
  • Want lasting results. The effects of surgery are immediate and long-lasting. Although patients need follow-up care, most do not have to repeat the procedure again. If they remain healthy, they keep the right breast size for several years or decades.

Is Gynecomastia on the Rise?

For many years, healthcare professionals have witnessed gynecomastia, but it seems to have become more common in recent years. So the question has to be asked — is it actually more common now or are men just now starting to speak openly about it?

In recent years, more and more men have been vocal about their struggles with gynecomastia and why they chose to (or not to) have their breasts surgically removed. This could be why it’s only appearing as though gynecomastia is more prevalent now than it was, say, 50 years ago.

If you believe you have gynecomastia you have nothing to feel embarrassed about. In 2010, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons announced that more than 20,000 men had male breast reduction surgery.

For more information on male breast reduction surgery or gynecomastia, give Wall Street Cosmetic Surgery a call at (212) 344-0496 or visit us online!