Gynecomastia is the technical term for a medical condition characterized by enlarged breasts in males. The typical cause is a fluctuation in hormone levels, which commonly occurs in infancy, during puberty, and at middle age. Although gynecomastia isn't life threatening, you may be experiencing some pain or discomfort. At the very least, you may be embarrassed to have "man boobs" and tempted to simply hide them. However, since enlarged breast tissue may indicate an underlying condition of a more serious nature, it's important to know if you have gynecomastia and to do something about it.
Examine yourself in a mirror if you suspect you may have gynecomastia. This condition represents an overgrowth of glandular breast tissue, not an accumulation of excess fat. You can tell the difference by looking and feeling for an enlargement of underlying tissue in the area surrounding the nipples that is greater than 5.08 mm in diameter, or approximately 1/5 inch.
Pay attention to telltale symptoms. Typical symptoms include general swelling, soreness, dimpling of the nipple or surrounding skin, and enlargement of the lymph glands under the armpit. In some cases, there may be a discharge of clear fluid from one or both nipples.
Create a risk factor profile. Risk factors that may predispose you to developing gynecomastia include liver and kidney disease and an overactive thyroid. Certain medications, including those used to treat the previously mentioned conditions, may also increase your risk, such as diuretics and ACE inhibitors. Other drugs associated with increased risk include medications intended to treat heart disease, prostate cancer and HIV infection.
Call your physician to schedule an appointment for an evaluation. This is the only way you can really know if you have gynecomastia. Your doctor may order a series of blood tests to measure testosterone levels, steroid hormone output from the thyroid, and liver and kidney function.
Be aware that if you delay seeking diagnosis and treatment for too long it can result in scarring of the glandular tissue, which can only be corrected with surgery. Put your self-consciousness aside. It's better to know that you have gynecomastia for sure than to ignore the issue.
Tips & Warnings
- Gynecomastia is often temporary in certain stages of life, such as in infancy and during the onset of puberty. In these cases, symptoms usually subside within six months.
- Gynecomastia is associated with a fivefold increased risk for male breast cancer.
- At the time of this writing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved any specific drugs to treat gynecomastia, which currently include aromatase inhibitors (estrogen reducers) and selective estrogen receptor modulators.
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