What causes gynecomastia?

Gynecomastia is a common condition that causes male breast tissue to overdevelop, causing swelling and sometimes giving an appearance similar to female breasts.

Tagged: Body & Breast

Gynaecomastia is a common condition that causes male breast tissue to overdevelop, causing swelling and sometimes giving an appearance similar to female breasts. This condition is often rather unkindly referred to as ‘man boobs’.

Gynecomastia is caused by an imbalance of sex hormones, when oestrogen levels are higher than they should be, which causes the breast tissue to develop.

The condition may affect one or both sides, although it often develops unevenly. Gynaecomastia can range from a small amount of excess tissue around the nipple to the development of two prominent breasts. In some cases, the breast tissue may be tender, or even painful. The condition can be a great source of embarrassment and mental distress to those who have it and it may even affect their quality of life. Men with gynaecomastia may avoid swimming, wearing certain items of clothing or even forming intimate relationships because of it. 

Gynaecomastia is most commonly found in teenage boys, older men and newborns, but it can affect men of any age and there are a number of gynaecomastia causes.

One or more of the following may be the cause of gynaecomastia:

Obesity is a common cause of gynaecomastia. Being very overweight causes an increase in the levels of oestrogen, plus the excess fat can also cause an enlargement of the breast tissue.

When boys go through puberty, hormone levels can fluctuate wildly, which can result in a degree of gynaecomastia. This can vary from person to person and often settles down once hormone levels have stabilised. This could take anywhere between six months and up to three years.

As men age, their testosterone levels naturally fall, meaning they are more likely to develop gynaecomastia. Older men tend to gain weight more easily too, which increases oestrogen production and further increases the risk of developing gynaecomastia.

It is common for newborn baby boys to show signs of gynaecomastia as the mother’s oestrogen passes through the placenta to the baby while in the womb. This is only temporary and usually settles down in the weeks following the birth.

Gynaecomastia can be a side effect associated with certain medications, including anti-ulcer drugs, antibiotics, chemotherapy, the medicine used to treat heart disease and antidepressants.

These include cannabis, heroin and anabolic steroids.

Excess male breast tissue can also be caused by certain health conditions, including thyroid disorders, liver disease, kidney disease, lung cancer or the presence of tumours on the pituitary gland or adrenal glands.

Klinefelter syndrome, a genetic disorder where boys are born with an extra X chromosome, also causes gynaecomastia. However, it is worth noting that this is a rare condition that affects just one in 660 men.

Testicular cancer, or any other lumps or infection in the testicles, can also be a gynaecomastia cause.

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Sometimes other medical conditions can present in a similar way to gynaecomastia, so your doctor may want to carry out further tests to confirm a diagnosis. This may include blood tests, urine tests, a mammogram (breast x-ray) or a biopsy, where part of the breast tissue is removed and sent away for analysis. But often a diagnosis of gynaecomastia can be made without the need for these tests.

It is important to note that gynaecomastia is not associated with breast cancer, which remains a rare condition in men. However, if you do find a lump in your breast tissue, you should seek medical advice.

The treatment for gynaecomastia depends on what is causing the condition in the first place. In the case of newborns and pubescent boys, the condition should go of its own accord, leaving no trace behind. If a person is obese, then losing weight, through a combination of a healthy diet and exercise, will help with the appearance of gynaecomastia. As part of this course of action, we highly recommend that you cut fatty foods from your diet. The body is unable to convert fat into energy, so it is stored as fatty deposits around the body, including in the chest area. Exercises that target the chest area help to build up muscle. When this muscle becomes more defined, it can lessen the appearance of fat in the chest area. However, if a person has particularly severe gynaecomastia, bulking up these muscles may serve to accentuate the breasts by pushing them outwards.

So diet and exercise alone may not be enough to get rid of gynaecomastia entirely, particularly if there are other causes at play. It will effectively reduce chest fat, but not the more important glandular tissue, which will require medical intervention to make any meaningful change.

If you suspect that prescribed medication is the cause of your gynaecomastia, it is important that you do not stop taking your medication, but instead, book an appointment with your GP to discuss your options.

There is no evidence to suggest that herbal creams or remedies will be able to help with gynaecomastia.

Depending on the cause, your doctor may prescribe medication to adjust the hormone imbalance. In some cases, breast reduction surgery may be the best course of action.

Here at the Cadogan Clinic, we carry out many of these procedures on men who are suffering from gynaecomastia. The procedure usually involves liposuction to remove excess fat and fibrous breast tissue, tightening the chest skin while simultaneously sculpting the chest area.

In patients with predominantly glandular as opposed to fatty breast tissue, there may be a need for direct removal of the breast disc, which would be done in combination with liposuction. This specific surgery is called Webster's Procedure. During this particular procedure, our skilled surgeon will make an incision around the edge of the areola. It is highly effective and discrete, leaving minimal scarring behind.

Surgical male breast reduction is the only permanent solution to gynaecomastia.

Book a consultation with one of our expert surgeons here at the Cadogan Clinic who will be able to discuss the available treatments with you.

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Treatments mentioned in this article

Liposuction can provide an efficient solution for the removal of unwanted fat from specific areas of the body, leaving a more defined shape.

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Male Breast Reduction, or Gynaecomastia Correction, is an extremely common procedure for men who wish to remove any excess, stubborn, unwanted chest fat. This straightforward procedure involves the use of liposuction to remove excess fat, tissue and loose skin to restore the appearance of a smooth, flat chest.

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