What is Gynecomastia and How Do You Know If You Have It?

Gynecomastia in men refers specifically to the medical condition of enlarged male-breasts, where glandular tissue accumulates underneath the nipple area of the chest.

Commonly known as man-boobs, the actual medical term – gynecomastia (or gynaecomastia) comes from the Greek words ‘gyne’, meaning woman, and ‘mastos’ meaning breast.

The condition is mainly due to hormonal issues in the body. Although it’s most common in teenage boys and older men, it can occur at any age and also in lean men – so it doesn’t have anything to do with being overweight.

How To Tell If You Have Gynecomastia

Firstly, you should be aware of the term Pseudogynecomastia, which literally means ‘false’ gynecomastia.

The term is used to try to distinguish between the genuine condition, and the condition due to being obese; i.e. where you have an accumulation of fatty tissue (not glandular tissue) covering your pectoral muscles.

Making sensible changes to your diet and exercising more often will help you to lose weight and address the problem. However, If you’re concerned that you suffer with gynecomastia, then a physical examination by a medical practitioner, will usually be required for a diagnosis. Doctors can usually tell whether someone has it, but in some cases blood tests may be taken to monitor kidney, liver and thyroid functions.

The visible signs can be very obvious; you may have dome-shaped breasts on the chest. In some cases the symptoms can be less pronounced with more subtle contour deformations. Puffy nipples are a common form of it, where small amounts of excess tissue forms just under the areola – this can sometimes be sensitive or in some cases, painful.

If you’re lean, with relatively little body fat, yet suffer from these symptoms, then you may have the condition – so consult with a doctor.

What Causes Gynecomastia?

Lets first talk about hormones. It may sound surprising, but both male and female hormones are present in the bodies of men and women.

Male hormones are called androgens – testosterone being the main one and the one we all know. They are responsible for the control and development of male physical characteristics such as muscle mass.

Female hormones are called estrogens – which are responsible for the development of female physical characteristics.

Gynecomastia is the effect, caused by an imbalance in the levels of these two hormones in a man’s body. Usually, in fully grown men, the level of testosterone is far in excess of that of estrogen, hence no presence of breasts.

So what can cause this hormonal imbalance?

There are several possibilities:

  • Pubertal gynecomastia that hasn’t resolved by itself after adolescence.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption, can over time, reduce testosterone levels and the ratio of testosterone to estrogen decreases.
  • Increasing age – from around 40 years of age, testosterone levels gradually begin to fall. If you don’t exercise regularly, usually body-fat levels will rise, resulting in higher production of estrogen.
  • Use of Illegal drugs and anabolic steroids.
  • Certain prescribed medications for existing medical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, certain cancers, hypertension, anti-ulcer drugs.

There are various medical conditions that can directly affect the hormone levels in the body. Some examples include:

  • Cirrhosis of the liver – can cause hormonal fluctuations.
  • Kidney disorders
  • Testicular cancers
  • Prostate cancer
  • Hyperthyroidism – an overactive thyroid that produces too much of the hormone thyroxine.
  • Genetic disorders like Klinefelter’s syndrome.

As you can see, the causes of gynecomastia can be quite varied and can be due to a
combination of ailments. There are treatments for gynecomastia ranging from medication – to address hormonal imbalances – to surgery to remove excess tissue from the chest.