Ginecomastia: a disease that grows breasts in men

Ginecomastia or gynecomastia is a growth of the breast glands in male. Generally breast glands remain dormant in males due to presence of higher levels of testosterone (male sex hormone) and lower amount of oestrogens (female sex hormone). Any abnormality in this balance can lead to development of ginecomastia.

What are the symptoms of ginecomastia?

Enlargement of breast glands (mammary glands) is the principle symptom. The growth is symmetrical in nature and is pronounced surrounding the nipple. Either a single or both breasts can be affected and the condition is known as unilateral or bilateral ginecomastia, respectively. Patient may feel tenderness and soreness surrounding the growing tissue but severe pain is generally absent.

Can any other condition lead to similar ginecomastia symptoms?

Breast cancer in man and pseudo-gynecomastia can lead to similar symptoms. However, breast cancer involves development of lumps rather than symmetrical growth and intensity of pain is also higher. Pseudo-gynecomastia involves growth of fatty tissue rather than breast glands. Please consult your doctor if you are not sure of the reason for the growing chest. A mammogram can differentiate ginecomastia from these two conditions.

How common is ginecomastia?

Around 60-90 neonates (child<1 year of age) are documented to have ginecomastia due to lack of testosterone. This is normal condition and does not require any treatment or precaution. Similarly, ginecomastia can also occur during puberty between the ages of 10-19 years. Other age duration with higher incidence of gynecomastia is between 50-80 years, as during this phase testosterone levels are declined. Around 70% of men in this age group may have some form of ginecomastia.

Should I consult a doctor?

Ginecomastia of neonates and during puberty is cured by itself within 3 years owing to the increasing level of testosterone at this age. However, ginecomastia during adulthood ad after 50 years of age is of clinical concern and requires medical examination.

Is there any cure for ginecomastia?

Ginecomastia in men is mostly a temporary condition and may subside on its own within 6 months to 3 year. If gynecomastia has occurred as a side effect of particular drug, shifting to the medication which is known to be safe in this regard will cure the problem. Cold compresses can be applied or pain killers can be taken under the medical supervision to relieve the pain and tenderness in the swollen breast.

In severe cases, doctor prescribes the hormone therapy that blocks the effect of estrogens and helps in maintaining the hormone balance, although they are not approved to treat ginecomastia by the FDA. These medications are tamoxifen, clomifene, testosterone or anastrozole. If these drugs are not helpful in reducing the breast tissues, surgery is the only option to remove the overly grown breast tissue.

What are the complications of ginecomastia?

As such, there is no major complication of ginecomastia. Presence of ginecomastia fro longer duration (more than 4-5 years) may lead to scaring (fibrosis) of the breast tissue, which may be difficult to treat with medications.

If the growth of the breasts is too much to hide, it may lead to some psychological changes like deterioration of self esteem, depression and social phobia.

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