Although embarrassing, the unintentional enlargement of male breasts may be more common than you think. Read on to find out about the treatment options.
Gynecomastia, or ‘man boobs’ to some, is a common condition among men that causes the breasts to swell to a larger size than normal. It is most common among young boys and older men1, and although it isn’t always painful, the condition can cause embarrassment. Here, we explain the causes of gynecomastia and outline the treatments available.
What is gynecomastia?
Gynecomastia is the growth of excess breast tissue, not fat tissue, which makes the male breasts appear larger2. It is usually harmless, but can cause the chest area to become tender or painful. There are a number of causes of the condition, some of which are naturally occurring and others that are avoidable3.
One main cause is an imbalance between the sex hormones of testosterone and oestrogen. All men produce both, but most men usually have more testosterone which prevents breast tissue from growing. If more oestrogen is produced, the breasts can become enlarged.
Obesity can also increase the amount of oestrogen that is produced by the body, causing gynecomastia. Age also impacts hormone levels and therefore the occurrence of gynecomastia, as puberty and old age can see testosterone levels drop and breast tissue grow. For teenage boys, this often corrects itself as they get older and their hormone levels stabilise. Less common causes include the side effects of medication, illegal drugs such as cannabis and anabolic steroids, alcohol abuse, and medical conditions such as liver disease.
Help is at hand
The causes of gynecomastia are often unavoidable which is why the condition can be so frustrating for men who suffer from it. Thankfully, treatment is available in the form of medication or chest reduction surgery, which removes excess breast tissue and leaves a more defined, masculine-looking chest. The popularity of the procedure has been steadily growing in the UK in recent years, rising by 24 percent in 2013 compared to the previous year4. The figures don’t necessarily suggest that instances of gynecomastia are on the rise, but it does show that more men are taking steps to reverse the condition and feel better about their bodies as a result.
Gynecomastia treatment explained
Of the two types of treatment available, surgery often follows hormone treatment if the body hasn’t responded to medication.
If you’re thinking about chest reduction surgery for yourself, you should be pleased to read that the procedure is relatively simple. The surgeon performing the operation will make a cut under your arm or around the nipple before removing the excess tissue, skin and fat and stitching the cut up again. You will be put under general anaesthetic, and could even go home the same day to recover. After the operation there will be some noticeable scarring, but this should fade over time. You should avoid any strenuous activity for at least two weeks after the operation, and it is recommended that you also take a week off work to give your body the time to heal.
Side effects and risks
Like any form of surgery, gynecomastia isn’t without its risks. The scarring that is caused by the surgery should fade, but in some cases it remains, which may mean you still worry about the way your body looks. There is also a risk of bleeding or infection around the wound which will need further treatment. You may experience a loss of feeling in the nipple following the procedure.
Knowing these risks and understanding the procedure should be the first steps you take towards gynecomastia surgery and getting back to being happy with your body. Take the time to speak to a consultant so you are fully informed before committing to surgery.
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