What Is Gynecomastia?

Gynecomastia, also known as ‘man boobs’, is a medical condition characterised by excessive growth of breast tissue in men. Enlarged male mammary glands take on the appearance of female breasts and may even secrete milk in some cases.

It is more common than you may think, occurring in as many as 40% to 60% of men at some point during their lifetimes. More than half of all male children are born with some degree of gynecomastia due to female hormones absorbed while in the womb, a condition that disappears within a few weeks.

Gynecomastia often develops during puberty but it is not uncommon for it to develop in elderly men as well, usually due to a decrease in testosterone caused by aging or treatment for prostate cancer. Sometimes the condition is related to obesity but it can also appear in men who are in peak physical condition. The severity of the condition varies from person to person; from very slight to extremely obvious.

Gynecomastia can be a great source of distress for adolescents. Boys with this condition may be embarrassed to remove their shirts in public for fear of ridicule, and dread the thought of going to beaches or swimming pools. Depression and low self-esteem can result and social relationships can suffer. In 90% of boys that develop gynecomastia during puberty, the condition disappears as the boy enters adulthood, unless it is the result of obesity. 10% will keep their ‘man boobs’ and may have to face the issue as adults. Although the breasts are typically more prominent in overweight men, true gynecomastia does not disappear with weight loss, and exercise has little or no effect.

True gynecomastia is caused by excessive growth of the male mammary glands, which are the same as the ones that are present in female breasts. However, prominent male breasts can also be caused by excess fat, also known as adipose tissue, in the area of the breasts. When enlarged male breasts are caused by fatty tissue alone, the condition is known as pseudo gynecomastia, and it requires different treatment than glandular gynecomastia.

However, regardless of whether an individual’s ‘man boobs’ are caused by abnormal mammary growth or excess fatty tissue, gynecomastia is a legitimate medical condition that is completely treatable. There are several treatment options available, and the first step in determining the right course of treatment is identifying the cause of the enlarged breasts. Different types of gynecomastia require different treatments and in some cases, removing the cause may be enough to send the condition into remission.

Many men are reluctant to talk about their breasts, even to a doctor. They may feel ashamed and emasculated and may even have difficulty developing meaningful relationships with women. If you suffer from this condition, it is important to remember that gynecomastia is a relatively common medical condition for which there is treatment. It is not reflective of your masculinity in any way, and the first step toward recovery is talking to your physician.