What is it?
Gynecomastia is a condition which occurs in men and boys. This condition is characterized by swelling of breast tissue. This swelling typically occurs when there is an imbalance in the hormones testosterone and estrogen. This condition can be unilateral (affecting only one side) or bilateral (affecting both sides).
What are the symptoms?
While each case is unique, there are a group of symptoms which should definitely lead to a trip to the doctor. These symptoms are:
• Tenderness of the breast
• Swollen breast tissue (breast glands)
• Nipple discharge (either or both breasts)
What causes it?
A decrease in testosterone levels, when compared to estrogen levels, triggers gynecomastia. There are several possible causes for gynecomastia. These include:
• Natural hormone changes which can occur at different stages in male development
• Prescription medications used to treat a variety of diseases and disorders ranging from cancer medications, to AIDS medications, to antidepressants and antibiotics
• Street drugs such as amphetamines, marijuana, methadone, anabolic steroids, and heroin. Additionally, alcohol consumption can be a contributing factor here.
• Health conditions can cause an imbalance in hormones, leading to the development of gynecomastia such as hypogonadism, normal aging, tumors, liver disease/cirrhosis, hyperthyroidism, kidney failure, and malnutrition/starvation
• Herbal supplements such as lavender and tea tree oil have been linked to gynecomastia
What complications can occur?
While gynecomastia does not necessarily present any physical complications the psychological and emotional impact can be severe and far reaching.
How is it diagnosed?
When diagnosing gynecomastia, doctors gather medical/drug history and family medical history. Additionally, they conduct a physical examination as well as blood tests and possibly a mammogram. Depending on initial testing doctors may require further tests including CT scans, MRI scans, biopsies, and testicular ultrasounds. Along with testing doctors will rule out any other possible disorders including cancer, fatty tissue, or mastitis.
How is it treated?
In most instances gynecomastia resolves itself over time. If, however, it is caused by and underlying condition doctors will treat the underlying condition. If the condition continues to cause issues, medications such as raloxifene or tamoxifen, typically used to treat breast cancer, may help. However, these medications are not specifically approved by the FDA for this purpose. Furthermore, if the condition persists doctors may recommend surgery, either liposuction or mastectomy, to correct the condition.
How do I cope?
While not physically concerning, gynecomastia can be very embarrassing and stressful. It can affect relationships, lead to bullying and teasing, and inhibit certain activities such as swimming and changing in the locker room. It is essential that patients seek help to cope with the effects of gynecomastia such as counseling, utilizing natural support from family and friends, and connecting with others suffering with gynecomastia. No one should suffer in silence.