Gynecomastia or ‘man boobs’ is a very common condition that occurs in growing boys and much older men. It is signified by a prominent increase in one or both breasts and could be caused by several reasons; some physiological and others pathological. Pathological causes involve an imbalance between the activities of androgens and oestrogens.
- At least 50% of adolescent boys will experience gynecomastia.
- It is a common condition thought to be present in a third of men in the course of their life.
- It is a non-cancerous condition. Breast cancer is detected in only 1% of male breast enlargement.
- Prevalence of asymptomatic gynaecomastia is reported as 60-90% of neonates, 50-60% of adolescents, and 70% in men aged 50-69.
What Are The Signs?
If the name ‘Man boobs’ is any indication, gynecomastia signs vary from sightings of extra tissues around the nipples or other parts of the breasts. These tissues can be tender or painful. Dimpling of the skin and retraction of the nipple are not typical findings. Milky discharge also isn’t a prominent feature except for individuals with prolactin secreting tumor.
Oestrogen stimulates breast tissue growth whilst androgens inhibit it. The moment there is an unhealthy imbalance in the ratio of oestrogen to androgens, gynecomastia is around the corner. The ratio can be altered by the action of testosterone or enhanced oestrogen or both and therefore, it may be caused by:
- Conditions which cause raised oestrogen levels
- Conditions which cause low testosterone levels
- Conditions which cause androgen resistance
- Conditions which cause an increased conversion of androgens to oestrogens.
Gynecomastia arises solely from hormonal imbalance but here are some factors could contribute to this development.
When you are overweight, you can’t escape from breast fat but not all of them are due to obesity, so trying to lose weight might not help you. The reason is simple; being overweight can increase your oestrogen levels and cause breast tissues developing.
During puberty, hormone levels in teenage boys usually vary. Many teenage boys have some degree of gynecomastia. This is due to the fluctuation in the testosterone level, if the testosterone level drops, oestrogen can cause breast tissues to grow but that usually clears up over time when the hormones become more stable.
As boys become men and men become even older men, they produce less testosterone which causes hormonal imbalance and could lead to the development of breast fat. Another contributing factor is the fact that as men get older, they develop more fat because of a less active lifestyle and this can lead to more oestrogen been produced.
This isn’t worth mentioning but for completion, newborn baby boys also experience gynecomastia because oestrogen passes through the placenta from the mother to the baby. This usually clears up within a few weeks.
Other causes include:
- Infection in the testicles
- Side effect of medication like anti-ulcer drugs or drugs for heart diseases.
- Cannabis or anabolic steroids
- Too much alcohol
- Kidney failure or liver disease
- Medication to resolve hormonal imbalance
- For severe cases, surgery is needed to remove excess breast fat.
If you are worried about your breast growth, see your GP. Your GP will tell you everything you need to know (most of which can be found here) and further indigenous treatment options you can’t find on the internet.