Gynecomastia involves swelling of the breast tissue in men. It is caused by too little testosterone or too much estrogen, which men’s bodies produce naturally but in smaller amounts than women. It’s a normal occurrence during puberty, old age, or shortly after birth.
When it occurs outside of these periods of life, it’s an indicator that you need to see a doctor to determine why your hormones are out of balance. Male breast growth can hurt your self-esteem but rarely affects your health unless there’s a serious underlying cause, such as testicular tumors or malnutrition.
Conditions linked to gynecomastia
The growth of breast tissue is usually the only symptom. Some men experience soreness in this tissue as well. One or both breasts may be affected.
Gynecomastia is caused by a hormonal imbalance between estrogen levels and testosterone levels in the patient. It can be the result of natural imbalances in newborn males as a result of the mother’s estrogen levels. Young men may experience it during puberty when hormone levels shift rapidly and often. The naturally occurring imbalance can also happen in older men as testosterone levels drop.
However, medications are more commonly the cause of gynecomastia. Anabolic steroids have been linked to the condition, as have certain classes of antidepressants. Medicines that treat enlarged prostates can cause testosterone levels to drop and lead to enlarged breasts. Some medications used to treat HIV/AIDS may have gynecomastia as a side effect, particularly with extended use.
Exposure to controlled substances like heroin, amphetamines and marijuana have been linked with the condition as well. Other natural products, such as tea tree oil and lavender oil, often used in shampoos and bath products can cause enlarged breasts in men because of weak estrogen content.
Malnutrition can cause testosterone levels to drop, but does not affect estrogen, so, in extreme cases, may cause gynecomastia. Other health conditions such as kidney disease, tumors of the pituitary glands or adrenal glands, and hyperthyroidism are also associated with risk of gynecomastia.
Most cases of gynecomastia go away naturally after a few months as your body returns to its usual balance of testosterone and estrogen. However, hormonal imbalances due to a secondary health problem will rarely solve themselves without treatment.
Even if the doctor rules out any serious causes, you can choose to take medications to restore your testosterone levels or undergo elective surgery to remove the unwanted breast tissue. These options help restore self-esteem, but they can’t always prevent the condition from reoccurring later. It is not necessary to treat this condition unless it is linked to another more serious health condition.
In men at risk for developing gynecomastia, careful and monitored use of prescription medications could help prevent its development. Anabolic steroids or antidepressants known to increase risk could be avoided or replaced with other, safer medications. Illegal drugs such as heroin, marijuana and amphetamines should be avoided as a general rule to prevent a whole host of medical issues, including gynecomastia. Monitoring and limiting alcohol intake could prevent its development, as well.
Avoiding those natural substances that are associated with increased risk of the condition is a simple and easy measure of prevention.