The primary cause of gynecomastia is a hormonal imbalance in which estrogen levels are too high or testosterone is too low. This type of hormonal imbalance can stem from a wide variety of factors, both natural and unnatural.
Natural causes of gynecomastia can occur in all stages of life from infancy to old age. The condition commonly occurs in infants because of high estrogen levels absorbed while in the womb, but disappears a few weeks after birth. During puberty, gynecomastia is quite common because of extreme hormonal fluctuations, but in 90% of cases the condition disappears as puberty ends and hormone levels become balanced. The remaining 10% continue to have enlarged breasts throughout their lives unless medical intervention occurs.
Gynecomastia can develop later in life as testosterone levels decrease naturally, or as a side effect of some medications, particularly estrogen therapy that is used to treat prostate cancer. Gynecomastia that occurs for no apparent reason can be an indication of a more serious underlying problem such as testicular cancer or prostate cancer; men who experience sudden changes in their breasts should consult a doctor immediately. Ignoring the problem or just trying to exercise it away could have dire consequences.
Many medications can cause hormonal imbalances that result in gynecomastia. If you notice a change in breast size after starting a new medication, do not hesitate to talk to your physician because alternative medication may be available. Some prescription medications that are known to contribute to the development of gynecomastia include antibiotics, tricyclic antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, ulcer medications, steroids, antibiotics, AIDS treatments, some heart medications and cancer treatments, particularly for prostate cancer. It can also be triggered by alcohol, marijuana, heroin and amphetamines. Taking testosterone can actually cause gynecomastia to develop because it can cause reduced production of natural testosterone as the body becomes dependent on the outside source of the hormone. Smoking may also be a contributing factor; one study found a correlation between gynecomastia and vascular health.
Gynecomastia can also be triggered by poor health, particularly unhealthy diets and overeating. In cases of pseudonym, which is common in overweight men, the breast enlargement is caused solely by excess fat; therefore, exercise, a healthy diet and weight loss can help to reduce the size of the breasts but may not eliminate the problem completely. Gynecomastia may also be a side effect of starvation because of the high levels of stress that it causes to the body’s hormone levels. Gynecomastia may also be triggered by medical conditions such as thyroid disorders, genetic disorders, hemophilia, hypergonadism, HIV, kidney failure, liver disease and cancer, particularly of the prostate and testicles.
You may be able to prevent gynecomastia from developing by simply maintaining good health. Don’t smoke, eat healthy foods, get regular exercise and avoid substance abuse. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your breasts or if you are unhappy with their appearance; not only can it make you feel better about yourself, it could save your life.