What Is Gynecomastia?
Gynecomastia is a condition where a boy or man develops increased breast tissue. It can happen at any age, but it’s frequently caused by hormonal imbalances at certain life stages. There can be many reasons for a man to develop excess breast tissue as an adult. For example, breast tissue growth is more common after age 65 due to hormonal changes and the prevalence of certain health conditions and medication use in that age group.
Gynecomastia is rarely serious, but it can cause pain, embarrassment, and self-esteem issues.
What Causes Gynecomastia in Adults?
An imbalance between the male sex hormone, testosterone, and the female sex hormone, estrogen, triggers gynecomastia. Although testosterone controls male characteristics and estrogen controls female characteristics, both genders have different amounts of testosterone and estrogen in their bodies.
With normal levels, these hormones control the development of sex-specific traits like muscle mass in men and breast growth in women. When an imbalance develops, a man’s testosterone decreases in relation to his estrogen levels, which are typically very low. The result can be the growth of breast tissue.
Here are five triggers or conditions that may cause a hormone imbalance or abnormally high estrogen levels, resulting in gynecomastia.
1. Natural Changes in Hormones
Testosterone and estrogen levels can change at different times in a man’s life, notably at birth, puberty, and with age. Research suggests that 65% of men over 50 have gynecomastia.
Some medications can cause gynecomastia, including some used to treat conditions like:
- Heart conditions
- Hormone deficiencies or muscle loss
- Nausea and stomach-emptying conditions
- Prostate conditions
3. Recreational Drugs or Alcohol
Recreational or illicit substances that can cause gynecomastia include:
- Anabolic steroids
4. Health Conditions
Some health conditions can affect the balance of hormones, including:
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure and cirrhosis
- Malnutrition and starvation
5. Herbal Products
Some herbal products or supplements, like plant oils, may mimic the qualities of estrogen in your body. This increase in estrogen-like chemicals may cause gynecomastia.
Symptoms Of Gynecomastia
Symptoms of gynecomastia are rare. Most men don’t report any symptoms, but they can include:
- Breast tenderness
- Nipple sensitivity
- Swollen breast tissue
If you notice any pain, swelling, or discharge, you should call your doctor right away.
Complications of Gynecomastia
Gynecomastia doesn’t typically cause complications, but it can affect self-esteem and cause emotional or psychological problems. No amount of working out can reverse gynecomastia.
Diagnosing gynecomastia isn’t always as simple as it might sound. Your doctor will need to determine the underlying cause and rule out cancer. Diagnosis may include a discussion of your symptoms and medical history, as well as a physical exam of your breast tissue, abdomen, and genitals.
Your doctor may also order tests to help determine the cause, including:
- Blood tests
- Computerized tomography (CT)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Tissue biopsy
Can Gynecomastia Be Treated?
In some cases, gynecomastia will resolve without treatment. For others, gynecomastia may be treated by treating an underlying condition.
If gynecomastia doesn’t resolve with treatments or is causing undue psychological stress, surgery can be done to correct the problem. Extra fat tissue in the breast area may be easily removed with liposuction.
Surgical breast reduction to remove gland tissue is also an option. The procedure itself is similar to a breast reduction performed in women.
How Much Does Gynecomastia Treatment Cost?
Usually, insurance plans don’t cover treatment for gynecomastia, since it is considered a cosmetic procedure. However, there are some exceptions, so you should contact your insurance provider directly to find out if it may be covered.
The cost of gynecomastia depends on a number of factors:
- The type of procedure performed
- Your surgeon’s skill and experience
- Geographic location of the surgery
- Any required medical tests
- Anesthesia fees
- Surgical center or hospital costs
- Prescriptions and compression garment
Cost is an important factor for most people, but it’s essential to choose a surgeon you feel comfortable with when you’re deciding on cosmetic surgery.