What is Gynaecomastia?
Gynaecomastia is the enlargement of chest in a male. This happens when the glandular tissue present in the chest is enlarged due to the imbalance of hormones. Gynaecomastia is mainly due to the presence of excess estrogens (female hormones) than androgens (male hormones) in the body. Gynaecomastia may be developed from infancy or during puberty.
What causes gynaecomastia?
In short, gynaecomastia is caused due to imbalance of hormones. The imbalance of hormones can be due to various factors including:
- Abuse of steroids
- Antibiotics that were prescribed for any other issue in the body.
- Narcotic drugs.
- Intake of estrogen – through medicines/supplements or naturally grown produce (soy products).
- Antacid and anti-anxiety drugs
- Chronic Kidney failure
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Low testosterone levels
- Being overweight or obese.
Who are at risk of developing gynaecomastia?
- Age – Bodies of aging men produce lower testosterone which could lead to gynaecomastia.
- Cirrhosis of the liver – This specific condition can lead to gynaecomastia.
- Medications that are prescribed to treat other health conditions.
Symptoms of gynaecomastia
The main symptom of gynaecomastia is enlargement of a man’s breast/chest. In case of gynaecomastia, it is the glandular tissue rather than the fatty tissue that grows and it is symmetrical in nature. The area may be little tender to touch and may give a rubbery feel. In most of the cases, the enlargement can happen on both sides and in very few cases, enlargement of chest may be only on one side.
Gynaecomastia is different from breast cancer. Breast cancer typically shows up as a lump on one side in the chest/breast associated with dimpling of the skin in the area, retraction of nipple, nipple discharge and swelling of lymph nodes under the arms.
Diagnosis of gynaecomastia
Usually pubertal gynaecomastia goes away on its own (usually within 12 months) but in some cases, the enlargement may stay requiring medical intervention.
Diagnosis of gynaecomastia is as simple as a physical examination. When the breast tissue is greater than 0.5cm in diameter around the nipples, the condition is termed as gynaecomastia. Deposition of fat in the chest region is not considered as gynaecomastia.
During physical examination, if your doctor or plastic surgeon suspects the presence of lumps in the breast and if you have any of the symptoms such as nipple discharge or enlarged lymph nodes etc, a mammogram may be required. Also, you will need to inform your doctor all your medical history and the current meditations that you might be taking. This will ascertain your doctor on the cause of the issue. A test to see the levels of hormones in the blood may also be done by your doctor.
Do medications work for treating gynaecomastia?
Yes, medications are more effective in reducing gynaecomastia but only during the early stages. After 12 months, scarring occurs in the breast tissue that has grown and surgery is the only effective solution to get rid of it. Reduction mammoplasty (also called breast reduction surgery) is performed in cases when there is excess breast tissue or when none of the medications are able to help in restoring the normal appearance of the male breast.
Relation between male breast cancer and gynaecomastia
Men with gynaecomastia are at 5 times higher risk of developing male breast cancer. However, gynaecomastia should not be considered as a precursor for cancer because it happens due to the presence/production of excess female hormones (estrogen).
Who should you see to treat your enlarge breasts?
If you are in your teens, may be near puberty age (around 13 or 14 years of age), and if you happen to see that your chest is growing and tender to touch, the first person to speak to is your mother or father, whoever you are comfortable with.
Next, you will need to get in touch with a good plastic surgeon and get it checked up. Most likely, medicines will be tried first and if that doesn’t help, surgery may be recommended.